“Did Ritalin Make Kids In Quebec Dumber?”

A question that would have been good to ask (and better yet answer) before experimenting on an entire generation’s worth of kids: Did Ritalin Make Kids In Quebec Dumber?

ADHD meds like Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, and Vyvanse have been called “smart pills” for their ability to bestow superhuman powers of concentration. In the U.S. especially, where about 11 percent of schoolchildren have an ADHD diagnosis, parents and teachers embrace the drugs as a way to get kids to sit still and pay attention.

Which makes it all the stranger that there has never been proof that ADHD meds make you smarter or more likely to succeed in school. And a new study that looks at the rise of Ritalin use in Quebec suggests exactly the opposite.

This study is flawed in that at least part of its evidence seems to derive from comparing one part of Canada (Quebec) against another part of Canada (not-Quebec).But I have always opposed Ritalin simply because the logic of it does not make sense – even if we take all the presuppositions about the kids’ problems and situation as true (for the sake of argument) it does not follow that drugging them is the logical solution.

The logical solution is to teach them how to motivate themselves (yes, it is possible to teach a child to pay attention; no, I’m not talking about employinig 19th century forms of child abuse, either). But the first step in solving the problem should have involved gathering more information about the problem to be solved:

  • under what circumstances are they not paying attention?
  • why are they not paying attention (“because a brain chemical is malfunctioning”) is not a detailed enough answer – since there is reason to suppose that actions influence chemicals as much as the other way around), and –
  • here’s the really important one – why do we need them to pay attention?

Sometimes we genuinely do need to improve their capacity – but sometimes we just want to control children in situations when it’s normal and natural for a child to resist being controlled.

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