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Selling Ritalin
Mom with a View

Selling Ritalin

Kids are selling their Ritalin to classmates who crave the extra focus to do better on their exams.


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.

May 10, 2014

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The opinions expressed in the comment section are the personal views of the commenters. Comments are moderated, so please keep it civil.

Visitor Comments: 21

(14) Mom & MS SpEd, November 5, 2014 10:47 PM

ADHD has a real physical basis but can be treated naturally.

In my experience as a mother and a Special Education Teacher ADHD is very real. A very good source of information on ADHD and how to treatt the lack of focus, impulsive behavior and depression is Dr. Michael R. Lyons book, "Is Your Child's Brain Starving?". I have worked in classrooms with children'spaced out on Ritalin that helped them focus but stole their appetite, ability to sleep at night, smile, or gave them an involuntary facial tic.Ritalin is the most benign of the medicines yet it can have side effects that interfere with learning. How well would I learn if I threw out my entire lunch because I couldn't eat a bite all day?
I have personally used dietary methods (along with very specific supplementation with non-toxic products) which helped my kids (and me too!) flourish without side effects. It takes a lot of work and consistency but it was far better than drugs.To ignore ADHD is just inviting feelings of failure and behavior problems. Deal with it, get therapy, but please think about a natural approach first!

(13) Karen, May 23, 2014 5:18 PM

Too much pressure all the way around

'even if they (horror of horrors) go to a state school' seems to assume that all Jewish children go to college of some sort. And the pressure to do so is certainly within the community. My daughter and a friend's daughter both left synagogue after Bat Mitzvah because there was no acceptance of/ programming for non-college bound teens. The synagogue sends 'care' packages to students (children of congregants) at college half of whom will probably move away - but does nothing for 18 - 22 year olds who are not in college but are in the area and are potential members. The pressure generated by the assumption that all Jews go to college is hurtful to the individual, synagogues and the Jewish people.

(12) Emma, May 17, 2014 11:45 PM

I have ADHD and in the past I have used drugs like Ritalin in the past to help me focus. I did this because I had a legitimate medical need that "alternative medicine" was not helping with. However, some of the drugs I tried have produced very negative side effects for me. Now imagine what it would do to the mind of someone who was not the intended target of the drug.

I don't believe that taking non-prescription meds to study is really "cheating," because the health drawbacks are too big to offer any sort of net advantage. A person can become insomniac (not good the night before a test!), go through severe mood swings, or get an addiction to the pills. All of these things would make taking Ritalin to study too harmful in the long run.

Also, not many students I knew were using ADHD meds to study, due to lack of availability and the risk of being caught. A popular "study helper" was Monster, an energy drink with high caffeine and taurine content. It is perfectly legal and was even sold in the school cafeteria. Either way, if students are so desperate to study that they feel the need to turn to "other means" to do so, they will find a way. It's not healthy but it won't change until society's values change. I personally hold the parents who push their kids too hard responsible - I knew some kids who didn't want to have to take drugs or caffeine, but felt obligated to or else they would disappoint their parents.

(11) Nancy, May 16, 2014 10:04 AM

To commenter #6--Please stop getting your information from celebrities. You are quoting statements which are absolutely FALSE!!

Mother and researcher, September 22, 2016 10:29 PM

Do your homework

As a parent who has spent the past 6 years researching vaccines and ADHD and other health subjects, I must comment it is pretty silly to presume that the only person who know about these subject is one celebrity. Only someone who has not done any research in the matters could say something so ridiculous. Ignorance is not a belief system. Do some research.

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