French children and ADHD

Hat tip to Mr. Albert Mohler and his podcast for pointing me to this article.

The magazine Psychology Today was the scene of a bit of a tiff concerning one professional’s opinion about ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The context, as I understand it, was the recent publication of the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders — or the DSM — which is, essentially the “Bible” of mental disorder diagnosis. Mr. Mohler had much to say about it and, indeed, apparently it is a terribly flawed book. The principle that comes to mind is one I warn my kids about from time to time: If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. In the mental health professions, this philosophy does seem to reign to a certain extent.

But, in particular, it was Mr. Mohler’s pointing to an argument about ADHD that caught my attention and eventually led me to a statement that you rarely see in mainstream publications anymore, let alone a work like Psychology Today.

The title of the Psychology Today article was, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD” by Dr. Marilyn Wedge (you can read it by clicking on the title).

It clearly began with punch:

“In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?

“Is ADHD a biological-neurological disorder? Surprisingly, the answer to this question depends on whether you live in France or in the United States.”

The point, of course, is that biologically, there is not so much different between an American child and a French child that 9% of American children should have a “biological” disorder that only 0.5% of French children do.

The debate then ensues: Is it that French children are actually different? Is it just that French doctors are ill informed? American doctors would be quick to say their French counterparts are too slow to recognize what is a true “disorder” (and responses in Psychology Today have, indeed, said as much), while French doctors would say that American doctors are far too quick to do so.

But what struck me was the common sense in Dr. Wedge’s article — that how a child is reared absolutely does have an impact on such things. Perhaps not 100%, but certainly not 0% and, in truth, far, far greater. In particular, the final section grabbed me with it’s information and advice that is sadly all too rare these days:

“From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means ‘frame’ or ‘structure.’ Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies ‘cry it out’ if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months.

“French parents, Druckerman observes, love their children just as much as American parents. They give them piano lessons, take them to sports practice, and encourage them to make the most of their talents. But French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer—something that is congruent with my own experience as both a therapist and a parent. Finally, French parents believe that hearing the word ‘no’ rescues children from the ‘tyranny of their own desires.’ And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.

“As a therapist who works with children, it makes perfect sense to me that French children don’t need medications to control their behavior because they learn self-control early in their lives. The children grow up in families in which the rules are well-understood, and a clear family hierarchy is firmly in place. In French families, as Druckerman describes them, parents are firmly in charge of their kids—instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.”

By the way, the “Druckerman” to whom she is referring is Pamela Druckerman who has appeared in these posts before. (“French Moms and Social Psychologist Silliness“, 2/7/2012.)

I was both shocked and delighted that a mainstream magazine like Psychology Today would allow someone to mention spanking in anything other than a negative light. But to focus on just that would miss the point. The idea of parents running a house, creating the “framing” and “structures” and not allowing the children to be the center and “pace setters” of that home was refreshing to see.

I’d write more, but I lack the time. (Actually, I lacked the time to write even this, but–hey–too late!) Just thought it was worth putting out there. And, for kicks, I will add a vive la france!