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Dr. Gabor Maté on ADHD, Bullying and the Destruction of American Childhood

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New figures show the number of US children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD has grown 22% since 2003. Earlier this month the centers for disease control reported 1 in 10 children now have ADHD. an increase of 1 million since 2003. The spike in diagnoses of ADHD, and other mental disorders, has farmed an unprecedented reliance on pharmaceutical medication to treat children with long term efefcts that remain unknown. The conventional responses also emphasize cursive methods with parents and schools encouraged to focusing on regulating children's behavior. Well the Canadian physician and best selling author Dr. Gabor Maté, argues these responses are treating surface symptoms as causes while ignoring deeper roots. Whether it's in mental disorders like ADHD or in rampant incidents of bullying, Dr. Maté says children are, in fact, reacting to the broader collapse of the nurturing conditions needed for their healthy developement. Instead of focusing on regulating children's behavior, Dr. Maté argues that we should look at how those nurturing conditions can be improved. Dr. Gabor Maté is auther of 4 books including "Scattered, how attention deficit originates and what you can do about it." And with Dr. Gordon Newfeld : "Hold On to Your Kids, why parents need to matter more than peers." Earlier this year, he appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss to discuss his work on drug addiction as well as on the mind-body connection the role of emotions and stresses in the development of chronic illnesses. Well Dr. Maté recently returned to our studio, to talk about ADHD. Parenting, bullying, the education system, and how a (litney) of stresses on the family environment is impacting American children. In the United states, right now, there are 3 million children receiving stimulant medication for ADHD, ADHD means... Attention deficit hyperactive disorder. And there are about half a million kids in this country, receiving heavy duty anti-psychotic medications. Medications such as are usually given to adult schizofrenics to regulate their hallucinations. But in this case children are getting it to control their behavior. So what we have is a massive social experiment of the chemical control of children's behavior. With no idea of the long term consequences of these heavy-duty anti-psychotics on the kids. I know that Canadian statistics just last week showed that within the last 5 years 43... there's been a 43% increase in the rate of dispensing of stimulant prescriptions for ADD, or ADHD, And most of these are going to boys, in other words, what we're seeing is an unprecedented burgeoning of the diagnosis, and I should say, really I'm talking about, more broadly speaking what I would call destruction of American childhood, because... ADHD is jus a template, it's just a an example of what's going on in fact the ( ) study , published in the States, nearly half of the adolescents now meet some criteria, or criteria for mental health disorders. So we're talking about a massive impact on our children, of something in our culture that's just not being recognized. Explain exactly what Attention deficit disorder is, what attention deficit hyperactivity disorder really is. Well specifically ADD is a compound of three (categorical) instead of symptoms. One has to do with poor impulse control. So these children have difficulty controlling their impulses. When their brain tells them to do something, from the lower brain centers, there's nothing up here in the cortex, which is where the executive functions are, which is where the functions are that are supposed to tell us what to do and what not to do. Those services don't work. So there poor impulse control. They act out, they behave aggressively, they speak out of turn, they say their own thing. Adults with ADD will shop impulsively or compulsively, I should say, and, and, and again, behave in impulsive fashion. So, poor impulse control. But again, please notice that the impulse control is general among kids these days. You know, it's not just the kids diagnosed with ADD, but a lot of kids. And there's a whole lot of new diagnoses now. And children are getting diagnosed with all kinds of stuff, ADD is just one example. there's a new diagnosis called Oppositional Defying Disorder. Which again has to do with behaviors and poor impulse control. So that impulse control has become a problem among children in general, not just the ones diagnosed with ADD. The second criteria for ADD is physical hyperactivity. So the part of the brain, again, that's supposed to regulate the physical activity and keep you still, just, again, doesn't work. And then finally, and this third criteria is poor tension skills. Tuning out, not paying attention, minding somewhere else absentmindedness, not being able to focus, beginning to work on something, 5 minutes later their mind goes somewhere else, so kind of a mental restlessness and a lack of being still, lack of being focused, lack of being present. these are the 3 major criteria of ADD. And a little bit I want to ask you about how taking all of this medication, being so heavily medicated, especially for a young person, affects their development, but I want to go to this point that you just raised about the destruction of American childhood. What do you mean by that? Well, err... The conditions that these children develop have been so corrupted and troubled with the last several decades that the template for normal brain development is no longer present. For many many kids. And Dr. (Bestal Wadercolc) was a professor pf psychiatry in Boston Universi- University of Boston, He actually says that the neglect or abuse of children is the number 1 public health concern here in the United States. A recent study coming out of Notre Dame by a psychologist there, has shown that the conditions for child developement that hunt or gather a society is provided for their children, which are the optimal conditions for development, are no longer present for our kids, and she says actually, that the way we use our children today, in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to them being in a moral sense. So what's really going on here is now, is that the developmental conditions for healthy childhood psychological and brain development are less and less available. So that the issue of ADD is only a small part of the general issue, that children no longer having the support for the way they need to develop. A big issue in the united states right now. Especially with one teen suicide after another. In this case in gay and lesbian teenagers is the issue of bullying. Reports just coming out on bullying just recently released that show 17% of American students report being bullied 2 or 3 times a month or more within a school semester with girls and boys having similar rates this was in a survey of. what, more than half a million US students between the 3rd and 12th grades. how does bullying relate to this. Well.... You see, again, if you look at the school boards and believe it's become a problem, there's hardly a school board in North America that doesn't have 0 tolerance policies. Meaning, you know, these kids who bully you know, once they're identified as bullies they're excluded. And they are punished. Which is a typical North American behavior of response, and, again, what they're ignoring is the causes of the bullying problem. And if you look at, whether you look at aggression in kids or bullying kids, you know, or among kids or precocious sexuality or poor impulse control, or any of the issues that are ( ) parents, and educators these days what you're talking about, again, is the lack of conditions for childhood developement. The bully is just a kid, who is emotionally very immature, has a desperate need to belong, and the way he attempts to do so, is by exploiting somebody else's vulnerability. But these are not deliberate behaviors, So they don't call for punishments. What they call for is the understanding over what bullying arises over, just as the general conditions for childhood development are lacking, and so the conditions for empathy and insight, you see there's parts of the brain in the prefrontal cortex, right here, in the front of the brain, who's job it is to regulate our social behaviors, they give us empathy, they give us insight, they give us attuned communication with other people, they give us a moral sense. Those are the very conditions, that , according to this Boston study, or this Notre Dame study, are in a lacking. So a lot of kids are not going out without empathy, without insight into others, without a sense of social responsibility. And bullying is just an example of that. And really what I have to... the fundamental thing that I I want to get across here, is that as I made the point in my book about addiction as well, the human brain does not develop on it's own, does not develop according to a genetic program, depends very much on the environment. And the essential condition for the physiological development of these brain circuits that regulate human behavior that give us empathy, that give us a social sense, that give us connection with other people, that give us a connection with ourselves, that allows us to mature, the essential condition for those circuits, their physiological development, is the presence of of emotionally available, consistently available, non-stressed, attuned parenting caregivers. Now what we have in a country, where the average maternity lead is 6 weeks, these kids don't have emotional caregivers available to them. what do you have in a country, where poor woman, nearly 50% of them suffer from (postpartum ) depression. And when a woman has postpartum depression, She can't be attuned to the child. And what about fathers? Well, the situations with fathers is that, increasing enough, there's a study recently that shows an increasing number of men having postpartum depression as well. And the main role of the father, of course, would be to support the mother. But when people are sre- emotionally. because the cause of postpartum depression in a mother is not intrinsic to the mother. Not intrinsic to the mother. What you need to understand here, is that human beings are not discreet individual entities. Contrary to the free enterprise myth. That people are competitive, individualistic, private entities, what people actually are, are social creatures. very much dependent on one another. And very much programmed to cooperate with one another when the circumstances are right. When that's not available, If the support is not available for women, that's when they get depressed. When the fathers are stressed, they're not supporting the women. In that really important, crucial bonding rule from the beginning. In fact they get stressed and depressed themselves. The child's brain development depends on the presence of non-stressed emotionally available parents. In this country, that's less and less available. Hence you've got burgeoning rates of autism in this country, cause it only got like 20 or 30 fold in the last 30 or 40 years... Say what you mean by autism. Autism is a whole spectrum of disorders, but the essential quality of it is an emotional disconnect. These children are living in a mind of their own they don't respond appropriately to emotional cues, they withdraw, they act out in a somehow, like I said, just unpredictable fashion, they don't know how to there's no sense of, there's no clear sense of emotional connection and just pace inside them and there's many more we can- Many many more kids in this country now several fold increase. 20 fold increase in almost 30 years. The rates of anxiety of these children is increasing, the numbers of kids on antidepressant medications has increased immensely, the number of kids diagnosed with bipolar disorder has gone up, and then, not to mention, all the the behavioral issues, the bullying, I already mentioned, the precocious sexuality, the teenage pregnancies, there's now a program a so called reality show, that just focuses on teenage mothers. you know, in other words... See it never used to be that children grew up in a stressed, nuclear family. That wasn't the normal basis for child development. The normal basis for child development has always been The clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family. Essentially, post industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities, which are still connected to one another, people don't work where they live, they don't shop where they live, The kids don't go to school, necessarily where they live, the parents are away most of the day, for the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around a nurturing adult in their lives. And are spending their lives away from the nurturing adults, which is what they need for healthy brain development. Turn to our conversation with Canadian author and physician Dr. Gabor Maté. His 4 books include "Scattered how attention deficit originates and what you can do about it" and "Hold On to Your Kids, why parent need to matter more than peers". Talk about how the drugs, Gabor Maté, affect the development of the brain, When kids are saturated with these drugs to sit still in school, so that they're not fiddling, fidgeting at their desk, they can't focus on reading, Or on the teacher, they're just plain old disruptive, What happens? Well there's a number of issues here: How the stimulant drugs work, is that in ADD there's an essential brain chemical which is necessary for incentive and motivation, that seems to be lacking. That's called dopamine. And dopamine is simply an essential life chemical, without it, there's no life. Mice in a laboratory that have no dopamine, will starve themselves to death, cause they have no incentive to eat. Even though they're hungry and even though their life is in danger, they will not eat, cause there's no motivation and incentive. So partly, one way of looking at ADD is a massive problem of motivation because the dopamine is lacking in their brain. Now the stimulant medications elevate dopamine levels, and these kids are more and more motivated, they can focus and pay attention. However the assumption underneath giving these kids medications is that what we're dealing with here is a genetic disorder, and the only way to deal with it is pharmacologically. And if you actually look at the dopamine levels in a brain develop, if you look at infant monkeys, and you measure their dopamine levels, and they're normal when they're with their mothers, and you separate them from mothers, the dopamine levels go down within 2 or 3 days. So in other words, what we're doing is, we're correcting a massive social problem that has to do with disconnection in a society and the loss of nurturing non-stressed parenting, and we're... replacing that chemically. Now the drugs, the stimulant drugs do seem to work and there are kids are helped by it, the problem is not so much whether they should be used or not, the problem is that 80% of the time, A kid is prescribed a medication. That's all that happens. Nobody talks to the family or the family environment, the school makes no attempt to change the school environment, nobody connects with these kids emotionally, in other words, it's seen as simply as a medical or behavioral problem but not as a problem of development. Gabor Maté, you talk about "acting out". What does acting out mean? Well that's a great question. You see, when we hear the phrase" acting out" we usually mean that a kid is behaving badly. That a child is being obstreperous, oppositional, violent, bullying, rude, that's cause you don't know how to speak English anymore. The phrase "acting out" means you portray in behavior that which you haven't got the words to say in language. In a game of sharades you have to act out, cause you're not allowed to speak. If you landed on a country where nobody spoke your language, and you were hungry, you'd have to literally demonstrate your anger, so your hunger, through a behavior pointing to your mouth or to your empty belly, because you don't have the words. My point is that, yes, there are children acting out, but it's not bad behavior. It's a representation of emotional losses and emotional lacks in their lives. And whether it's, again, bullying or a whole set of other behaviors, what we're dealing with here is childhood stunted emotional development, in some cases, stunted brain development. And rather than trying to control these behaviors through punishments, or even just exclusively through medications, we need to help these kids develop. We're talking to Dr. Gabor Maté, number 1 Canadian best seller. His book, " Scattered" about ADD Let me just ask you about that title. "Scattered", why you chose it. I didn't.... The Canadian title is "Scattered minds" and you look at the American- sorry, you look at the origins and healing of attention deficit disorder. Now the American publisher recently decided That the American public couldn't handle the word "minds", so they published it as "Scattered" only to have the same publisher publish another book on ADD called "Scattered minds". 8 years later. just to make things confusing for the public. But it's the subtitle that interests me. My original subtitle was "a new look on origins and healing" now just what I'm saying is we just have to look at it, really look at what this is all about. It's not about disease, it's about childhood development. The American title became "how did it originate and what you can do about it". The typical American can-do, do it yourself, self help-ism . You know, rather than actually taking a pause to look. Right away we want to jump, it's sort of an American fun policy. You know, you're not gonna look at anything, you're just gonna jump in and do what you want to do. You mentioned you suffered from ADD, Attention deficit disorder, yourself and were drugged for it. Explain your own story. Well I was in my early 50's and I was working in ( ) at the time. I was coordinator of (Paliative Kerry), a large Canadian (osgrove ) And a social worker on the unit, who'd just been diagnosed as an adult, told me about her story. Just been diagnosed as an addict? An adult. An adult. Yeah. This social worker she was diagnosed at age 38. Oh as an adult suffering of ADD. So as a physician, I was like most physicians, who knew nothing about ADD, most physicians really don't know about the condition, and... about when she told me her story I realized that was me. And subsequently I was diagnosed and... And what was that story, what did you realize? Oh well, poor impulse control, impulsive behavior a lot of my life, impulsive behaviors, disorganization, tendency to tune out a lot to be absent minded, physical restlessness, I mean I was, you know, I had trouble sitting still, all the traits, you know, that I saw in the literature on ADD, I recognized in myself. Which is kind of an epiphany in a sense, because it, you get to understand, at least you have a stance on why you're behaving the way you're behaving. What never made sense to me right from the beginning though, is the idea of ADD as a genetic disease. And not even after a couple of my kids were diagnosed with it, I still didn't buy the idea that it's genetic, cause it isn't. Again, it has to do with, in my case, very stressed circumstances in an infant, which I talked about in a previous program, in the case of my children, it's because their father was a workaholic doctor who wasn't emotionally available to them. And under those circumstances, children are stressed, and when children are stressed when their brains are developing, the only way to deal with stress is to tune out. You mentioned you described this in a previous interview, but describe it now. So I was a baby in Budapest, Hungary in 1944 born in January and two month before the Germans occupied Hungary, Jewish parents, my father was away in forced labor, my grandparents were killed in Auschwitz, my mother was a very stressed and depressed woman, who would barely assure my own survival. And at a certain point I was separated from her for a number of weeks. So at 11 months of age, she obviously couldn't give me a sense of of comfort and ease, and attuned communication. Her life, itself, was in danger, and mine and this whole... Her focus was simply on survival. Under circumstances like that, The child's brain just doesn't get the emotional input that the circuits need for a healthy development. But it doesn't have to be as dramatic as that, you see? All you need is people that are very stressed in their lives. As under the current economic crisis for example. In Windsor Ontario, which is a twin city of Detroit, And therefore an auto making town in Canada, in 2009, the number of visits for child mental health disorders went up 50%. Now, so what happens is the parents are stressed because of their their economic status, and the uncertainty, and the children are diagnosed with mental health disorders. Talk about "Holding On to Your Kids, why parents need to mater more than pears". I mean, in 1998 there was a book that was in the New York Times "best book of the year" And nearly won the Pulitzer prize, and it was called the nurture assumption, in which the researcher argued that parents don't make any difference anymore. Because she looked at to the extent that in the news she had a cover article that year, entitled "Do parents mater?" Now, if you want to get the full stupidity of that question, you have to imagine a veterinarian magazine asking does the mother cat make any difference. Or does the mother bear matter? But the research showed that children are being more influenced now in their tastes, in their attitudes, in their behaviors , by peers than by parents. This poor researcher concluded that this is something natural. And what she mistook was, that what is the norm in north America, she actually thought it was natural and healthy. In fact it isn't. So our book "Hold On to Your Kids, why parents need to matter more than peers." Is showing why it is true that children are more influenced by the kids in these days, than by their parents, but just what an aberration that is and what a distortion that is to normal human development. Because normal human development demands as normal (mamallian) development demands the presents of nurturing parents. But, you know, even birds. Birds don't develop properly unless their mother and father are there. Bears, cats, rats, mice... All the most over human beings, because human beings are the least mature and the most dependent for the longest period of time. Can you talk about the importance of attachment? Attachment is derived to be close to somebody, and attachment is a powerful force in human relationships it's like, the most powerful force there is. Even as adults, we're in attachment relationships that people want to be close to, or lost to us, or threatened somehow, we get very disoriented, very upset. Now for children and babies and adolescents, that's an absolute necessity. Because the more immature you are, the more you need your attachments. It's like a force of gravity that pulls two bodies together. Now, when the attachment goes in the wrong direction, instead of to the adults, but to the peer group, childhood development is gonna be distorted, development is stopped in its tracks, and parenting and teaching become extremely difficult. You co-wrote this book, and you both found in your experience "Hold On to Your Kids" that your kids are becoming increasingly secretive, and unreachable. Well that's the thing, see if your spouse or partner adult spouse or partner came home from work, and didn't give you the time of day, and got oh the phone and talked to other people all the time, so spend all that time on e-mail talking to other people, You're friends wouldn't say you have a behavior problem, you should try tough love, they say you got a relationship problem. But when children act in these base, we think we have a behavior problem, we try and control the behavior. In fact, what they're showing us, is what my children have shown me as well, Is that I had a relationship problem with them. They weren't connected enough with me, and too connected to the peer group. So that's why they wanted to spend all their time with the peer group. And now we're giving kids the technology to do that with. So the terrible downside of the internet, is that kids are spending time with each other, Not even in the presence of each other. That's exactly the point, because you see, that's an attachment dynamic. One of the ways that people attach to each other, is to want to be with the people you want to connect with. So when the kids spend time with each other, it's not a behavioral problem. It's a sign that their relationships have been skewed towards the peer group, and that's why it's so difficult to peel them off of their computers. Cause their desperation is to connect to the people that they're attached to. And that's normally us, as the adults, as the parents. So how do you change this dynamic? Well first we have to recognize its manifestations. And you have to recognize it whenever the child doesn't look adults in the eye anymore. When the child always want to be on the skype or the cell phone or twittering or E-mailing or MSN messanger... You recognize that when the child becomes oppositional to adults We tend to think that that's a normal childhood phenomenon. It's normal only to a certain degree. Well they have to rebel in order to separate later. No, they have to separate, but they don't have to rebel. In other words, separation is a normal human's individuation. It's a normal human developmental stage. You have to become a separate individual person. But it doesn't mean you have to reject and be hostile. To the values of the adults, as a matter of fact, In traditional societies, Children would become adults by being initiated into adulthood. by adults, like the Jewish bar mitzvah ceremony. Or the initiation rituals of tribal cultures around the world. Now kids are initiated by other kids. and they have the gang phenomenon. So that the teenage gang phenomenon is actually a misplaced initiation and orientation ritual where kids are now rebelling against adult values, but it's not because they're bad kids. But because they become disconnected from adults. Dr.Maté there's a whole debate about education in the United States right now, how does this fit in? Well you have to ask how do children have to learn? How do children learn? And learning is an attachment dynamic as well. You learn when you want to be like somebody. So you copy them, so you learn from them. You learn when you're curious. And you learn when you're willing to try something And if it doesn't work, you try something else. Now here's what happens. Caring about something, being curious about something and recognizing that something doesn't work you have to ( ) of the emotional security. You have to be able to be open and vulnerable. Children who become peer oriented because the peer world is so dangerous, and so fraught with bullying and ostracisation and Dissing and exclusion and negative talk How does the child protect himself? Or herself from all that negativity in the peer world? Cause children are not committed to each other's unconditional loving acceptance. Even adults have a hard time giving that. Children can't do it. Those children become very insecure, and emotionally, to protect themselves, they shut down. They become hardened. So they become cool. Nothing matters, cool is the ethic. You see, that even the rock videos, it's all about cool. It's all about aggression, and cool and no real emotion. Now, when that happens, curiosity goes, cause curiosity is vulnerable, cause you care about something and you're admitting that you don't know. You won't try anything, because if you fail, You again, you're vulnerability is exposed, so you're not willing to have trial and error. And, in terms of who you're learning from, as long as kids were attaching to adults, they were looking to the adults to be modeled modeling themselves on them, to learn from, and to get their cues from. Now kids are still learning from the people they're attached to, but now it's other kids. So you have whole generations of kids, that are looking to other kids now, to be their mode- to be their main cue giver, so teachers have an almost impossible problem on their hands. And unfortunately, in America again, education is seen as a question of academic pedagogy, Hence these terrible standardized tests, And the very teachers who work with the most difficult kids are the ones who are always penalized. Because if they don't have good test scores, standardized test scores in their class... They're seen as bad teachers. they could be fired. They're seen as bad teechers which means they're gonna want to kick out any difficult kids. That's exactly it. The difficult kids are kicked out, and and teachers will be afraid to go into neighborhoods where because of troubled family relationships the kids are having difficulties, the kids are peer oriented, the kids are not looking to the teachers. And this is seen as a reflection, so actually teachers are being slandered now. Teachers are being slandered now. because of the failure of the American society to produce the right environment for childhood development. Causing the destruction of American childhood. That's right. You write in your book about the phenomenon of peer orientation and the legacy of it, why we must hold on. So we only have a few minutes right now. But can you talk about both, especially how parents break the cycle. And not only parents but elders and community. Well first of all, what the problem reflects is the loss of the community and the neighborhood, we have to recreate that. So the schools have to become not just places of pedagogy, but places of emotional connections. The teachers should be in the emotional connection game, before they're in the pedagogy game. Kindergartens. Studies in the States have shown that children in kindergartens have higher stress hormones than those kids at home. Than those kids at home, except in those day cares, where there's a decent adult to child relationship. Parents should not encourage sleepovers and playdates all the time. Kids have already spent all the time with each other throughout the whole week in the absents of the parents, cause both their parents have to work especially in this economy. But isn't it good, isn't it different when the kids are at home, so that the parents are there, where they can see the friends, they can interact with the firends... Yeah there's nothing wrong with kids having friends, it's a question do they do it under parental leadership? Or do they do it in separation of the parents? Then we have to learn how to teach kids discipline without punishing them. Because punishment drives a kid further away from the parent. So that in North America, the whole way that we raised kids the context is wrong, and the methods that people are thought are wrong. And then no wonder that we're having such huge problem with our children and adolescents. Canadian physician Dr.Gabor Maté. including "Scattered, how attention deficit originates and what you can do about it." and with Dr Gordon Newfeld, "Hold On to Your Kids, why parents need to matter more than peers."

Video Details

Duration: 32 minutes and 17 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: Democracy Now
Views: 135
Posted by: zeitgeistmexico on Nov 25, 2010

A spike in diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other mental disorders has fueled an unprecedented reliance on pharmaceutical medications to treat children, with long-term effects that remain unknown. We speak with Canadian physician and best-selling author, Dr. Gabor Maté. He argues that these responses are treating surface symptoms as causes while ignoring deeper roots. Dr. Maté says children are in fact reacting to the broader collapse of the nurturing conditions needed for their healthy development.

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