Selling Ritalin
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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.

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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.

Published: May 10, 2014


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Visitor Comments: 18

(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!!

(10) Marion, May 15, 2014 11:45 PM

You say in your article that a rabbi once claimed that if cheating in high school then lead to college acceptance, that then led to a job, then all the money earned should be considered stolen. What if the person concerned never cheated at college and earned their degree with the power of their own brain? College grades are worth far more than high school grades, and they are what would actually contribute to getting the person the job - not the high school diploma. I agree that the person should not have been accepted into college if their high school diploma was ill-gotten, but if they have shown that they are capable of that level of legitimate success, then I wouldn't consider that money to be stolen. Of course, if they cheated in college as well, then that would be entirely different as I am assuming that in this case the rabbi was implying the college degree was weighted more in the cheat's being accepted for a job.

Anyway, I have ADD and several times have been offered ritalin. I have refused it because I don't like the idea of taking drugs when there are alternative treatments available. In your article, you also suggest that ritalin gives an undue benefit to a non-ADD sufferer who is working/studying. It doesn't give them the knowledge to complete an assignment or a test. It doesn't give them questions or answers in advance that need to be kept secret. All it does is make them focus and concentrate a bit better, so they can use their own brain power more effectively. For an ADHD sufferer, this could be a lifesaver, literally. For a non-ADHD sufferer, this could be achieved more effectively with a good diet, good exercise, taking fish-oil tablets and getting a good night's sleep. They're also subjecting themselves to unpleasant side effects like addiction. In other words, if you take this drug when you don't need it, you are not cheating the school, you are cheating yourself.

(9) Aviva, May 15, 2014 3:30 PM

As someone who has ADD since childhood, and has taken medication to alleviate its symptoms, I can't see how anyone who really needs it would sell it. Is the money their classmates give them worth it?

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