Now, Religion in the News, a report and comment on religious trends and events beings covered by the media. This week’s item is from CBS News, March 3, 2003, with the headline: “Labeling Defiant Kids—Christopher DuFault, looks like your all-American second grader. But to his mother, Christine, the 8-year-old is part boy and part monster. Every day a simple test turns into all out war.
“‘He’s broken windows and doors,’ she told CBS News correspondent Mika Brzezsinsky. ‘And he’s so strong, I can’t control the 8-year-old.’
“Christopher’s been diagnosed with a psychiatric condition called Oppositional Defiant Disorder. Right along side ADD and ADHD—ODD is part of the alphabet soup of labels stamped on 1 in 25 schoolchildren. What does it mean? ODD kids simply defy authority.
“‘Children with ODD exist in every school,’ said Joseph Volpe, a school psychologist.
“Volpe said it’s not known whether ODD is biological or environmental. ‘It’s a consistent pattern of negative, hostile, defiant, disobedient behavior and it interferes with functioning,’ he said.
“But others disagree.
“‘I think it’s a fraud,’ said Ellen Gabor, a retired teacher.
“She says what ODD interferes with is teaching.
“‘It’s an attempt to hang a medical term on students who refuse to behave themselves,’ she said. “She is not Christopher’s teacher, but after 32 years in the classroom, Gabor has seen it all—ADD, ADHD. And when ODD came her way, she says that’s where education took a backseat to labels and affected her teaching ability.
“‘It’s a very sad diagnosis, because the other kids could see that the authority of the teacher was just withering away.’
“But Christine DuFault says her son clearly has a disorder. ‘It’s real; it’s beyond real.’
“And Christopher knows he has a problem. He calls it ‘explosive disorder.’ When asked how did he know he had ODD, he said his ‘mom says it all the time.’
“Gabor doesn’t buy it. ‘When children know they are labeled, they know exactly what they are allowed to do. A student might say to me, “I can’t do that, I have ODD.”’
“Christopher’s mother opposes that line of thinking. ‘They need to deal with it. I mean, just as if it was a kid in a wheelchair or a physical handicap.’
“And to those who say the behavior is the result of bad parenting, Dufault replied, ‘It’s not! And I say if you lived with him for a day, two days—you’d know.’”
Tom: Dave, interesting article don’t you think? There’s some irony in it. I know you’re going to have a few things to say about it, but I find the letters for this, that is, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ODD—that spells “odd,” and it seems to me, that would—we’d have another psychological problem here. Just by the label they are diminishing the child’s self esteem by calling him an odd child. Come on!
Dave: Yeah, you walk into the psychiatrist’s office. You have a normal child who is obstreperous, a little antsy, they need to be taught to behave, and when they walk out of there, they have a label attached to them. It will stay with them the rest of their lives. Now they know that they are someone “special”—that it is no longer their fault—something that they can control. They need to have some special drugs given to them, and so forth. Tom, I was a boy once, too, and I think you probably were also.
Tom: Were you an ODD boy?
Dave: (chuckling) It’s hard to remember after all these years, but I know that I could be very defiant. I remember my mother breaking coat hangers, wooden coat hangers, on me.
Tom: See, I was of the Dr. Spock generation. We weren’t too…
Dave: I got into a lot of fights, in fact, more than you could have believed me, if I told you, but in those days, we considered some kids have got more energy, some kids just want to do their own thing. They have to be taught that they don’t run the world. There are other people in this world. They can learn to control themselves.
Tom, it comes up in many ways, I’ll give you an example. Here I am, counseling a young man and his wife, and he is abusing her physically, and he says, “I can’t help it. That’s what my dad did to my mother, and I mean, I don’t want to, but I can’t help it.”
I said, “Look, don’t give me this nonsense—‘you can’t help it.’ If she was a 6’ 8, 300-pound, 10th degree black belt in karate, you wouldn’t haul off and slug her. Or if she was a millionaire going to put an investment in your business, you wouldn’t haul off and slug her. Come on! Don’t tell me you can’t control yourself! You can, but you have an excuse. You’re excusing yourself.”
And that’s what I would have to say about these kids. And, Tom, I don’t want to run down—this young man’s mother claims it’s not her fault. Tom, I have seen parents—they are literally training their children to be this way, the way they pamper them, they cater to them, anything the child wants…
Tom: Dave, they talk to them. Can you imagine talking to a 4-year-old or 5-year-old…rational… using reason with a 4-year-old or a 5-year-old?
Dave: They are teaching the children that they do not have to obey, that what they decide is more important than what their parents decide, and that they can run this show. And I’ve seen 2-year-olds that ought to have an emperor’s crown on them. The whole family is terrified of them. If you cross them, they will throw a tantrum.
Tom: Dave, the thing that concerns me about this is most of this—the diagnosis here, or the school psychologist—supposedly, they say, “Oh, they need drugs. It’s a chemical imbalance.” Now we know there may be cases like that in which the chemistry is affecting the person. But you’re talking about responsibility—that’s where the emphasis has to come. And to diagnose somebody on the basis of an interview and prescribe drugs, I think that’s pushing it.
Dave: Well, once again I would recommend Your Drug May Be Your Problem, by Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist, and I would say one of the world’s leading experts on drugs. And he raises this question. He says, “Chemical imbalance? They have never diagnosed a chemical imbalance, they have never examined the brain to show what it was. They can’t tell you what chemical is out of balance or where in the brain it is out of balance.” He says, “We’re talking about chemical imbalance? Hey, whose chemical imbalance are we talking about? Maybe it’s the parents and the teachers, who can’t control these kids or who are not willing to control them.”
I think that’s part of the problem, and the Bible says, “A parent who loves their children will chasten them and will not spare the rod.” But if you do that today, you are accused of child abuse. So, our whole culture is creating these monsters, and part of it is for the drug manufacturers, and they keep coming up with more labels and more labels and more labels, so they have more power over this society.
Tom: Dave, I want to add a qualifier. Number 1, we are not experts on drugs, but what we are encouraging people to do is to ask questions. You have to talk to your doctor, you have to discuss these things, but get involved with it. Do your own homework, ask the proper questions, and look for good, reasonable answers.
Dave: Tom, what concerns me is putting a label on disobedience explains it in a way that justifies it and that undermines authority further. We need to get back to the Bible. What these children need is to be taught self-control, and the parents need to follow the Scriptures when it comes to their discipline.