Why Don’t French Kids Have ADHD?

French psychologists approach the disorder very differently, with vastly different results. Should we?

A recent article in Psychology Today purported to explain, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD.”

French child psychiatrists… view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems with drugs, French doctors prefer to look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context. They then choose to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling. […] This is a very different way of seeing things from the American tendency to attribute all symptoms to a biological dysfunction such as a chemical imbalance in the child’s brain.

The article then goes on to explain that the French and Americans have vastly different parenting philosophies and this likely plays into the disparity of ADHD within the cultures – 9% of children in America vs. 0.5% in France.

This immediately piqued my interest. As someone who suffers from chronic depression (not diagnosed until well into my 30s) I have been fascinated by the increase in mental and behavioral disorders recently. The mind and the body are intimately connected and when my mind rebelled against me and led me into the dark cellar of depression, my body followed. Even though many of those emotional issues are resolved, I still suffer periods of depression. My body spent so long dealing with a depressed mind it wired itself to that cycle.

Does that sound so crazy? I don’t think so. Not at all.

So why is it so crazy that ADHD might be something that isn’t all in the body? Is it just the (understandable) fear of being labeled a “bad parent”?

Again from the article:

…French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in ADHD 3the 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…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…parents are firmly in charge of their kids—instead of the American family style, in which the situation is all too often vice versa.

I must admit this makes perfect sense to me.

When my editor brought us this article it sparked a lot of resentment in some of our staff.

One colleague said they couldn’t help but think “These people are telling me my deceased mother was a bad parent.” I can think of 5 people right this very second who are reading this and thinking “This is bullshit!”

ADHD 2But what is so wrong with the suggestion that your child’s ADHD might actually be more treatable than it is currently being made out to be? We live in a society where measles are making a comeback because one shifty “researcher” put out a poorly researched paper on vaccinations years ago and now a whole generation of granola moms are convinced life-saving vaccines are poison. Women are shamed for daring to drink coffee when they’re pregnant because of the caffeine. Super greens, clean eating, natural sunblocks, paleo – we’re about the natural, healthy lifestyle these days. Except when a kid has ADHD. Then we tell ourselves the only way to better health is in a synthetic chemical.

The drug industry knows how far Americans will go to avoid having a personal stake in their ailments.

Go buy their pills but for god’s sake don’t seek any other remedy.  I’m all for good drugs (oh boy, am I ever) but I do know its in a pharmaceutical company’s best interest to convince me the only answer to my specific problem is in their pill, and if I don’t have a problem they’ll make one up. Anyone remember Restless Leg Syndrome?

If your kid has asthma its not your fault, but you might be contributing to it by living next to a coal plant. 

If your kid has ADHD it’s not your fault but you might be contributing to it by keeping them in an environment that promotes anxiety and insecurity.

When someone suffers a heart attack what is one of the first things a doctor says? “Reduce your stress levels” Why? Its just medical. The heart is just a muscle. What’s the big deal?

The doctor understands that the mind controls the body and they’re saying, “Change your mind.”

As an addendum, I recognize that some factors are out of one’s control. Early childhood trauma or family history. This is not to say everything is “fixable.” This is only an interesting alternative to our dependence on pharmaceuticals as a culture.

The French report tells us there are many contributing factors to ADHD, including diet and I for one think we might need to really take a look at some of the root causes for this epidemic in this country. Its time for Americans to stop capitulating to the culture of sensitivity for the sake of our children.  We can’t take science so personally. There can be multiple roots for a physical ailment. We shouldn’t run from that reality just because we’re terrified someone will think us a bad parent.

Its worth the introspection. That’s all I’m saying.

Do you agree? Leave your thoughts in the comment section.

Photo Credit: Tony Northrup/123rf
Photo Credit: Cathy Yeulet/123rf
Share:
Share on FacebookPin on PinterestTweet about this on TwitterShare on LinkedInShare on Google+Share on RedditDigg this
In this article

Join the Conversation

Join the Conversation

2 comments

  1. Jan Parker Reply

    While I certainly agree with the French ideas of parenting, ( oh,” Heck ya!” on setting limits)…all kids with ADHD are not naughty, hyper, difficult or discipline problems. All 9 of our children were parented the same and doing their best in school was emphazied. We knew that the two ( one boy, one girl, 16 years difference in age) having school issues were smart enough to do the work, but their grades didn’t show it. When the older one was diagnosed it was a process of elimination. The psychiatrist eventually tried her on ritalin and the schoolwork transformation was incredible!
    Fast forward to our youngest son (2nd second grade) doing poorly in school, not finishing work on time and grades suffering. ANY thing he had to accomplish was done agonizingly S-L-O-W.
    By this time, a test for ADHD had been developed and he was diagnosed with ADHD. Our psychiatrist explained that in some people, ADHD is extreme distractability. Ability to concentrate and staying on task is difficult at best. The brain wanders all over the place, siderailing the task at hand. Enter Adderall, schoolwork was finished on time, tests were a breeze, and straight As for the rest of his school years.
    While I do think some parents feel that meds will fix discipline problems, I can’t find fault with meds that allowed our kids to excel in school.
    (on a side note, I wonder how the school day is in France is structured).

  2. Jan Parker Reply

    While I certainly agree with the French ideas of parenting, ( oh,” Heck ya!” on setting limits)…all kids with ADHD are not naughty, hyper, difficult or discipline problems. All 9 of our children were parented the same and doing their best in school was emphazied. We knew that the two ( one boy, one girl, 16 years difference in age) having school issues were smart enough to do the work, but their grades didn’t show it. When the older one was diagnosed it was a process of elimination. The psychiatrist eventually tried her on ritalin and the schoolwork transformation was incredible!
    Fast forward to our youngest son (2nd second grade) doing poorly in school, not finishing work on time and grades suffering. ANY thing he had to accomplish was done agonizingly S-L-O-W.
    By this time, a test for ADHD had been developed and he was diagnosed with ADHD. Our psychiatrist explained that in some people, ADHD is extreme distractability. Ability to concentrate and staying on task is difficult at best. The brain wanders all over the place, siderailing the task at hand. Enter Adderall, schoolwork was finished on time, tests were a breeze, and straight As for the rest of his school years.
    While I do think some parents feel that meds will fix discipline problems, I can’t find fault with meds that allowed our kids to excel in school.
    (on a side note, I wonder how the school day is in France is structured).

No widget found with that id