Rant 18 October 2004: The Ritalin Kid

Canadian Thanksgiving, for you folks not living in Soviet Canuckistan, is in October. In my opnion, this is a better time than the American November Thanksgiving. It’s more clearly harvest time, the temperature is still nice, and you get over two months’ recovery from turkey and family dysfunctionality before Christmas (for those of you who moved straight into family dysfunctionality during Ramadan, or who are still recovering from high holidays in September, sorry about your luck).

My nephew is now just over two years old. Now, I know everyone says this about children they’re related to, but he’s adorable. He is good natured and pretty relaxed, although he does enjoy the usual two-year-old habits of dumping stuff all over the floor, banging things to hear the noise, and getting cranky without a nap. Over dinner, my sister told me that other parents had asked when she was going to get evaluated.


Yes, evaluated for drugs. When was she going to look into putting him on Ritalin?


This question comes at a time when kids are experiencing inactivity, poor nutrition (in the sense of OVER, not UNDERnutrition), and obesity as never before. Children, some with ages in the single digits, are now showing signs of heart disease, insulin resistance, and diabetes that were previously reserved for middle-aged, sedentary Type A office workers. Thanks to state cutbacks, many schools have to pad their educational budgets with vending machine and crappy cafeteria contracts (to quote the Simpsons’s vision of a future school: “If you have three Pepsis and drink one, how much more refreshed are you? You, the redhead in the Chicago school system?” “Pepsi?” “Partial credit.”). Recently I saw an article about repetitive strain injuries in children: their hands are becoming damaged from the fine motions of video game consoles.

My sister and I both turned a critical eye to the wee tot, happily scribbling something incomprehensible–perhaps an exploding star nebula, perhaps an homage to Jackson Pollock–mostly on paper, but a little on the table, with his crayons. He seemed chilled out enough by toddler standards.

“He’s great”, said my sister, “as long as he gets an hour of exercise every day.” Hell, I thought, I feel much better with an hour of exercise every day, and I’m not a being of pure energy like a small child. Not to disparage or dismiss the real psychological needs that many children have, but I wonder whether the push for drugs stems largely from the disordered behaviour of over-sugared and under-exercised bodies. When I hear many parents explaining their choice to medicate their child, they cite reasons such as “He couldn’t sit still in class” or “She couldn’t focus”. But I can’t sit still either. I’m good for about thirty minutes of a boring meeting and then I too want to run around, yell, fidget, throw things, jump up and down, and pull someone’s hair. What the hell are kids doing sitting quietly in rows for six hours a day anyway? For one thing, if your school district has been anything like mine, their gym classes, and often their recesses, have been cut.

Now, as you know, I’m no fan of school gym classes. These tend to be ordeals of “team sports” where kids like me, who are losers at catching any projectile, suffer at the naturally coordinated hands of Genetically-Manufactured-for-the-Glory-of-the-Motherland youth. I also remember spending many a traditionally female recess standing around watching the boys do things. Why didn’t we girls take the initiative to kick or throw a ball, run around and scream, or push each other’s faces into the dirt? Well, for one thing, we knew we weren’t supposed to join the boys (how did we know? I have no idea. We just knew, like you know you’re not supposed to pee your pants in public).

But there has to be a better way. Young bodies aren’t meant to be wearing an ass groove into a chair so early. There have to be more choices than physical humiliation or nothing.

By the way, if you live in the northern regions, the leaves are turning. Rediscover the pleasures of walking this month. Go with your sweetie, your doggie, a friend, your mp3 player, or with no other company than your own thoughts.

Site reader Rosemary sent me this response after reading this month’s rant. Three Mistress cheers for Mr.G.!

I’m with you on your October rant. I will say, though, that not every
school has jettisoned activity,. At the elementary school my girls
attend, gym ain’t nothing like it was when I was a kid. My kids have
gym every day. I think for 1/2 an hour, it might be 45 minutes. (Okay,
you can call me a bad mom for not knowing that.) There is some
occasional team sport activity, but Mr. G. generally has them engaging
in the kind of activities that I can imagine them doing for the rest of
their lives. One week it’s scootering. One week it’s tumbling. One
week it’s fencing, or unicycling, etc. etc. Then at least one day a
week there’s what they call “stations,” which sound a little like
various calisthenics or similar activities. I have no idea how he
manages to do all these various activities. We’re an underfunded urban
school system. I have this vision that there is one classroom-sized set
of equipment that the elementary school gym teachers in Seattle pass
around to their schools. I have no idea if this is true or not.

He’s also great about getting the kids active in other ways. One day a
week he opens the gym at 8:00 and kids can come in and unicycle and
tumble. Right now, twice a week during one of the recesses he has a
group of kids running a mile. They are doing this as part of the 24
“honor miles” that kids who participate in the Seattle Kid’s Marathon
do. (They actually just run the final 1.2 miles on “race day.”)

I don’t know what other families think about this, but I think it’s
fantastic. It’s reinforcing my lessons at home that it’s not about being
good at a sport, its about getting out there and trying and having fun
in a way that keeps your body moving around. All the academic time in
the world isn’t going to sink in if the kids are antsy. And we all know
how much smarter we are when we work out for an hour then come back to
whatever was troubling us.

So tell your sister to keep her toddler running, and bouncing balls, and
stepping on his aunt’s toes, and doing everything else that doesn’t
involve a tv set. Don’t let her put him in a school that has cut recess
to emphasize academics. Talk about cutting off a nose to spite a
face!!! And if she has to, then help her figure out a fun way to have
him be active after school.