Rabbi Chanina remarked, "I have learned much from my teachers, more from my colleagues, and the most from my students" (Ta'anis 7a). If we open ourselves up to the possibilities, then almost every interaction is an opportunity to learn. We learn something unique from our teachers, from our peers, and from our students. Ethics of the Fathers advises us that a wise man learns from everyone. Our Torah sages were referring to opportunities for growth or wisdom and not just the acquisition of information, which is most easily satisfied online these days.

Yet sometimes the information is a key to wisdom. Sometimes it unlocks doors, opens our eyes, reveals insights or is a cautionary tale. Last Friday was all of the above. We “learned” about a destructive phenomenon occurring in American high schools involving the popular drug Ritalin. While Ritalin calms down children with ADHD, it has the opposite effect on those who don’t have this diagnosis. It is an amphetamine, colloquially an upper.

Apparently children with ADHD are selling their Ritalin to their classmates who believe the extra energy and focus helps them do better on their exams (and you thought steroids in baseball were only hurting the players).

Our mouths dropped open. There are so many things wrong with this story – the kids who need the drug that aren’t taking it, the drive to make a quick buck no matter the consequences to either party, and the unbelievable pressure to “succeed” that seems to compel these children to seek “help”. When The Rolling Stones sang about “Mother’s Little Helper,” at least they were talking about adults. These are our children at risk.

How much pressure are we putting on them that drugs have become the path to success?

How much pressure are we putting on them that drugs have become the path to success? And how have we defined success? Is it only about acceptance and attendance at an Ivy League school? That’s certainly a very narrow and limiting definition.

Are any of us focusing our children on just doing their best, even if they get a B average, even if they (horror of horrors) go to a state school? Are any of us rewarding them and praising them for demonstrations of good character instead of good grades? Are they becoming who we really want them to be? And are they equipped with the tools they’ll need to successfully navigate adulthood? (The non-pharmaceutical tools that is!)

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of blessed memory, a prominent American rabbi of the last generation, was once addressing the issue of cheating in high school. He said that if the cheating led to better grades which in turn led to college acceptance and then to a job then all the money earned was considered stolen. All the “success” was due to cheating and thereby nullified.

I can’t help but think the same about success earned through artificial (or possibly illegal) stimulants.

Not only is it an ill-gotten gain but it’s hard to imagine the havoc this wreaks on a child’s self-esteem. The accomplishment is perceived to be due to the drugs and not to their own effort or talents. They believe themselves dependent on the medication and unable to achieve without this assistance. That is perhaps the biggest cost of all. (To be clear, I’m discussing kids who are not prescribed the medication. I realize some children who have ADD benefit from Ritalin, even though there is much discussion that it is overly prescribed.)

It’s time for parents to look below the surface of the good grades and determine what price is too high. It’s time to ease up the pressure so children can feel a sense of accomplishment without help. It’s time to regain perspective on what success is and to communicate a healthy message to our children.

It wasn’t pearls of wisdom that were shared with us Friday night. But it was important. And it was a wake-up call. It forced all of us to re-examine our perspective and priorities and energized us to help others do the same.

There was definitely something to learn. I just hope we internalized the lesson.