author of four books, including Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It and Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers.
A spike in diagnoses of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other mental disorders has fueled an unprecedented reliance on pharmaceutical medications to treat children, with long-term effects that remain unknown. We speak with Canadian physician and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté. He argues that these responses are treating surface symptoms as causes while ignoring deeper roots. Dr. Maté says children are in fact reacting to the broader collapse of the nurturing conditions needed for their healthy development. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: New figures show the number of U.S. children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD, has grown 22 percent since 2003. Earlier this month, the Centers for Disease Control reported one in ten children now have ADHD, an increase of one million since 2003.
The spike in diagnoses of ADHD and other mental disorders has fueled an unprecedented reliance on pharmaceutical medications to treat children, with long-term effects that remain unknown. The conventional response has also emphasized coercive methods, with parents and schools encouraged to focus on regulating children’s behavior.
Well, the Canadian physician and bestselling author Dr. Gabor Maté argues these responses are treating surface symptoms as causes while ignoring deeper roots. Whether it’s in mental disorders like ADHD or in rampant incidents of bullying, Dr. Maté says children are in fact reacting to the broader collapse of the nurturing conditions needed for their healthy development. Instead of focusing on regulating children’s behavior, Dr. Maté argues we should look at how those nurturing conditions can be improved.
Dr. Gabor Maté is author of four books, including Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It and, with Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers. Earlier this year, he appeared on Democracy Now! to discuss his work on drug addiction, as well as on the mind-body connection, the role of emotions and stresses in the development of chronic illnesses. Well, Dr. Maté recently returned to our studio to talk about ADHD, parenting, bullying, the education system, and how a litany of stresses on the family environment is impacting American children.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: In the United States right now, there are three million children receiving stimulant medications for ADHD.
AMY GOODMAN: ADHD means?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And there are about half-a-million kids in this country receiving heavy-duty anti-psychotic medications, medications such as are usually given to adult schizophrenics to regulate their hallucinations. But in this case, children are getting it to control their behavior. So what we have is a massive social experiment of the chemical control of children’s behavior, with no idea of the long-term consequences of these heavy-duty anti-psychotics on kids.
And I know that Canadians statistics just last week showed that within last five years, 43 — there’s been a 43 percent increase in the rate of dispensing of stimulant prescriptions for ADD or ADHD, and most of these are going to boys. In other words, what we’re seeing is an unprecedented burgeoning of the diagnosis. And I should say, really, I’m talking about, more broadly speaking, what I would call the destruction of American childhood, because ADD is just a template, or it’s just an example of what’s going on. In fact, according to a recent study published in the States, nearly half of American adolescents now meet some criteria or criteria for mental health disorders. So we’re talking about a massive impact on our children of something in our culture that’s just not being recognized.
AMY GOODMAN: Explain exactly what attention deficit disorder is, what attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, specifically ADD is a compound of three categorical set of symptoms. One has to do with poor impulse control. So, these children have difficulty controlling their impulses. When their brain tells them to do something, from the lower brain centers, there’s nothing up here in the cortex, which is where the executive functions are, which is where the functions are that are supposed to tell us what to do and what not to do, those circuits just don’t work. So there’s poor impulse control. They act out. They behave aggressively. They speak out of turn. They say the wrong thing. Adults with ADD will shop compulsively, or impulsively, I should say, and, again, behave in impulsive fashion. So, poor impulse control.
But again, please notice that the impulse control problem is general amongst kids these days. In other words, it’s not just the kids diagnosed with ADD, but a lot of kids. And there’s a whole lot of new diagnoses now. And children are being diagnosed with all kinds of things. ADD is just one example. There’s a new diagnosis called oppositional defiant disorder, which again has to do with behaviors and poor impulse control, so that impulse control now has become a problem amongst children, in general, not just the specific ones diagnosed with ADD.
The second criteria for ADD is physical hyperactivity. So the part of the brain, again, that’s supposed to regulate physical activity and keep you still just, again, doesn’t work.
And then, finally, in the third criteria is poor attention skills — tuning out; not paying attention; mind being somewhere else; absent-mindedness; not being able to focus; beginning to work on something, five minutes later the mind goes somewhere else. So, kind of a mental restlessness and the lack of being still, lack of being focused, lack of being present. These are the three major criteria of ADD.
AMY GOODMAN: In a little bit, I want to ask you about how taking all this medication, being so heavily medicated, especially for a young person, affects their development.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: But I want to go to this point that you just raised about the destruction of American childhood. What do you mean by that?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the conditions in which children develop have been so corrupted and troubled over the last several decades that the template for normal brain development is no longer present for many, many kids. And Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, who’s a professor of psychiatry at Boston — University of Boston, he actually says that the neglect or abuse of children is the number one public health concern in the United States. A recent study coming out of Notre Dame by a psychologist there has shown that the conditions for child development that hunter-gatherer societies provided for their children, which are the optimal conditions for development, are no longer present for our kids. And she says, actually, that the way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well-being in a moral sense. So what’s really going on here now is that the developmental conditions for healthy childhood psychological and brain development are less and less available, so that the issue of ADD is only a small part of the general issue that children are no longer having the support for the way they need to develop.
AMY GOODMAN: A big issue in the United States right now, especially with one teen suicide after another — in this case, of gay and lesbian teenagers — is the issue of bullying, reports just coming out on bullying, just recently released, that show 17 percent of American students report being bullied two or three times a month or more within a school semester, with girls and boys having similar rates. This was in a survey of, what, more than half-a-million U.S. students between the third and 12th grade. How does bullying relate to this?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, you see, again, if you look at the school boards — and bullying has become a problem — there’s hardly a school board in North America that doesn’t have zero-tolerance policies, meaning, you know, these kids who bully are then, once identified as bullies, they’re excluded and they’re punished, which is a typical North American behavioral response. And again, what they’re ignoring is the causes of the bullying problem. And if you look at — whether you look at aggression in kids or bullying kids — amongst kids or precocious sexuality or poor impulse control or any of the issues that are plaguing parents and educators these days, what you’re talking about, again, is the lack of healthy conditions for childhood development.
The bully is just a kid who is emotionally very immature, has a desperate need to belong, and the way he attempts to do so is by exploiting somebody else’s vulnerability. But these are not deliberate behaviors, so they don’t call for punishments. What they call for is the understanding of where bullying arises out of. Just as the general conditions for childhood development are lacking, and so the conditions for empathy and insight. You see, there’s parts of the brain in the pre-frontal cortex, right here in the front of the brain, whose job it is to regulate our social behaviors. They give us empathy. They give us insight. They give us attuned communication with other people. They give us a moral sense. Those are the very conditions that, according to this Boston study — sorry, this Notre Dame study, are now lacking. So a lot of kids are now growing up without empathy, without insight into others, without a sense of social responsibility. And bullying is just an example of that.
And really, what I have to — the fundamental thing that I want to get across here is that, as I made the point in my book about addiction, as well, the human brain does not develop on its own, does not develop according to a genetic program, depends very much on the environment. And the essential condition for the physiological development of these brain circuits that regulate human behavior, that give us empathy, that give us a social sense, that give us a connection with other people, that give us a connection with ourselves, that allows us to mature — the essential condition for those circuits, for their physiological development, is the presence of emotionally available, consistently available, non-stressed, attuned parenting caregivers.
Now, what do you have in a country where the average maternity leave is six weeks? These kids don’t have emotional caregivers available to them. What do you have in a country where poor women, nearly 50 percent of them, suffer from postpartum depression? And when a woman has postpartum depression, she can’t be attuned to the child.
AMY GOODMAN: And what about fathers?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, the situation with fathers is, is that increasingly — there was a study recently that showed an increasing number of men are having postpartum depression, as well. And the main role of the father, of course, would be to support the mother. But when people are — emotionally, because the cause of postpartum depression in the mother it is not intrinsic to the mother — not intrinsic to the mother.
What we have to understand here is that human beings are not discrete, individual entities, contrary to the free enterprise myth that people are competitive, individualistic, private entities. What people actually are are social creatures, very much dependent on one another and very much programmed to cooperate with one another when the circumstances are right. When that’s not available, if the support is not available for women, that’s when they get depressed. When the fathers are stressed, they’re not supporting the women in that really important, crucial bonding role in the beginning. In fact, they get stressed and depressed themselves.
The child’s brain development depends on the presence of non-stressed, emotionally available parents. In this country, that’s less and less available. Hence, you’ve got burgeoning rates of autism in this country. It’s going up like 20- or 30-fold in the last 30 or 40 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Say what you mean by autism.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, autism is a whole spectrum of disorders, but the essential quality of it is an emotional disconnect. These children are living in a mind of their own. They don’t respond appropriately to emotional cues. They withdraw. They act out in an aggressive and sometimes just unpredictable fashion. They don’t know how to — there’s no sense — there’s no clear sense of a emotional connection and just peace inside them.
And there’s many, many more kids in this country now, several-fold increase, 20-fold increase in the last 30 years. The rates of anxiety amongst children is increasing. The numbers of kids on antidepressant medications has increased tremendously. The number of kids being diagnosed with bipolar disorder has gone up. And then not to mention all the behavioral issues, the bullying that I’ve already mentioned, the precocious sexuality, the teenage pregnancies. There’s now a program, a so-called "reality show," that just focuses on teenage mothers.
You know, in other words — see, it never used to be that children grew up in a stressed nuclear family. That wasn’t the normal basis for child development. The normal basis for child development has always been the clan, the tribe, the community, the neighborhood, the extended family. Essentially, post-industrial capitalism has completely destroyed those conditions. People no longer live in communities which are still connected to one another. People don’t work where they live. They don’t shop where they live. The kids don’t go to school, necessarily, where they live. The parents are away most of the day. For the first time in history, children are not spending most of their time around the nurturing adults in their lives. And they’re spending their lives away from the nurturing adults, which is what they need for healthy brain development.
AMY GOODMAN: Canadian physician, bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté. If you’d like a copy of today’s show, you can go to our website at democracynow.org. He’s the author of, among other books, Scattered. We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We return to our conversation with Canadian physician and author Dr. Gabor Maté. His four books include Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It and Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how the drugs, Gabor Maté, affect the development of the brain, when kids are saturated with these drugs, to sit still in school, so that they’re not fiddling, fidgeting at their desk, they can’t focus on reading or on the teacher, or they’re just plain old disruptive. What happens?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, there’s a number of issues here. How the stimulant drugs work is that, in ADD, there’s an essential brain chemical, which is necessary for incentive and motivation, that seems to be lacking. That’s called dopamine. And dopamine is simply an essential life chemical. Without it, there’s no life. Mice in a laboratory who have no dopamine will starve themselves to death, because they have no incentive to eat. Even though they’re hungry, and even though their life is in danger, they will not eat, because there’s no motivation or incentive. So, partly, one way to look at ADD is a massive problem of motivation, because the dopamine is lacking in the brain. Now, the stimulant medications elevate dopamine levels, and these kids are now more motivated. They can focus and pay attention.
However, the assumption underneath giving these kids medications is that what we’re dealing with here is a genetic disorder, and the only way to deal with it is pharmacologically. And if you actually look at how the dopamine levels in a brain develop, if you look at infant monkeys and you measure their dopamine levels, and they’re normal when they’re with their mothers, and when you separate them from mothers, the dopamine levels go down within two or three days.
So, in other words, what we’re doing is we’re correcting a massive social problem that has to do with disconnection in a society and the loss of nurturing, non-stressed parenting, and we’re replacing that chemically. Now, the drugs — the stimulant drugs do seem to work, and a lot of kids are helped by it. The problem is not so much whether they should be used or not; the problem is that 80 percent of the time a kid is prescribed a medication, that’s all that happens. Nobody talks to the family about the family environment. The school makes no attempt to change the school environment. Nobody connects with these kids emotionally. In other words, it’s seen simply as a medical or a behavioral problem, but not as a problem of development.
AMY GOODMAN: Gabor Maté, you talk about acting out. What does acting out mean?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, it’s a great question. You see, when we hear the phrase "acting out," we usually mean that a kid is behaving badly, that a child is being obstreperous, oppositional, violent, bullying, rude. That’s because we don’t know how to speak English anymore. The phrase "acting out" means you’re portraying behavior that which you haven’t got the words to say in language. In a game of charades, you have to act out, because you’re not allowed to speak. If you landed in a country where nobody spoke your language and you were hungry, you would have to literally demonstrate your anger — sorry, your hunger, through behavior, pointing to your mouth or to your empty belly, because you don’t have the words.
My point is that, yes, a lot of children are acting out, but it’s not bad behavior. It’s a representation of emotional losses and emotional lacks in their lives. And whether it’s, again, bullying or a whole set of other behaviors, what we’re dealing with here is childhood stunted emotional development — in some cases, stunted pain development. And rather than trying to control these behaviors through punishments, or even just exclusively through medications, we need to help these kids develop.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Dr. Gabor Maté, number one Canadian bestseller. His book Scattered about ADD — well, let me just ask you about that title, Scattered, why you chose it?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: I didn’t. The Canadian title is Scattered Minds: A New Look at the American — sorry, A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder. Now, the American publisher, in its wisdom, decided that the American public couldn’t handle the word "minds," so they published it as Scattered, only to — the same publisher published another book on ADD called Scattered Minds eight years later, just to make things confusing for the public.
But it’s the subtitle that interests me. My original subtitle was A New Look at the Origins and Healing. In other words, what I’m saying is we have to just look at it, really look at what this is all about. It’s not about disease. It’s about childhood development. The American title became How ADD Originates and What You Can Do about It, the typical American can-do, do-it-yourself, self-help-ism, you know? Rather than actually taking a pause to look, we right away want to jump. It’s sort of American foreign policy, you know? Rather than looking at anything, we’re just going to jump in and do what we want to do.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned you suffered from ADD, attention deficit disorder, yourself —
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: — and were drugged for it. Explain your own story.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, I was in my early fifties, and I was working in palliative care at the time. I was coordinator of a palliative care unit at a large Canadian hospital. And a social worker in the unit, who had just been diagnosed as an adult, told me about her story.
AMY GOODMAN: Just been diagnosed as an addict?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: An adult.
AMY GOODMAN: An adult.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Yeah, this social worker was diagnosed at age 38.
AMY GOODMAN: Oh, as an adult, suffered with ADD.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Yeah, as an adult. And as a physician, I was like most physicians who know nothing about ADD. Most physicians really don’t know about the condition. But when she told me her story, I realized that was me. And subsequently, I was diagnosed. And —
AMY GOODMAN: And what was that story? What did you realize was you?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Oh, poor impulse control a lot of my life, impulsive behaviors, disorganization, a tendency to tune out a lot, be absentminded, and physical restlessness. I mean, I had trouble sitting still. All the traits, you know, that I saw in the literature on ADD, I recognized in myself, which was kind of an epiphany, in a sense, because you get to understand — at least you get a sense of why you’re behaving the way you’re behaving.
What never made sense to me right from the beginning, though, is the idea of ADD as a genetic disease. And not even after a couple of my kids were diagnosed with it, I still didn’t buy the idea that it’s genetic, because it isn’t. Again, it has to do with, in my case, very stressed circumstances as an infant, which I talked about on a previous program. In the case of my children, it’s because their father was a workaholic doctor who wasn’t emotionally available to them. And under those circumstances, children are stressed. I mean, if children are stressed when their brains are developing, one way to deal with the stress is to tune out.
AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned you described this in a previous interview, but describe it now. Describe your youth.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Oh, so I was a baby in Budapest, Hungary, in 1944, born in January, two months before the Germans occupied Hungary, Jewish parents. My father was away in forced labor. My grandparents were killed in Auschwitz. My mother was a very stressed and depressed woman who could barely assure my own survival. And at a certain point, I was separated from her for a number of weeks, at 11 months of age. She obviously couldn’t give me a sense of comfort and ease and attuned communication. Her life, itself, was in danger — and mine. And so, her focus was simply on survival. Under circumstances like that, the child’s brain just doesn’t get the kind of emotional input that the circuits need for their healthy development.
But it doesn’t have to be as dramatic as that, you see? All you need is people who are very stressed in their lives, as under the current economic crisis, for example. In Windsor, Ontario, which is a twin city of Detroit, and therefore an auto-making town in Canada, in 2009, the number of visits for childhood mental health disorders went up 50 percent. Now, so what happens is the parents are stressed because of their economic status and the uncertainty, and the children are diagnosed with mental health disorders.
AMY GOODMAN: Talk about holding on to your kids, why parents need to matter more than peers.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Amy, in 1998, there was a book that was on the New York Times best book of the year and nearly won the Pulitzer Prize, and it was called The Nurture Assumption, in which this researcher argued that parents don’t make any difference anymore, because she looked at the — to the extent that Newsweek actually had a cover article that year entitled "Do Parents Matter?" Now, if you want to get the full stupidity of that question, you have to imagine a veterinarian magazine asking, "Does the mother cat make any difference?" or "Does the mother bear matter?" But the research showed that children are being more influenced now, in their tastes, in their attitudes, in their behaviors, by peers than by parents. This poor researcher concluded that this is somehow natural. And what she mistook was that what is the norm in North America, she actually thought that was natural and healthy. In fact, it isn’t.
So, our book, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers, is about showing why it is true that children are being more influenced by other kids in these days than by their parents, but just what an aberration that is, and what a distortion it is of normal human development, because normal human development demands, as normal mammalian development demands, the presence of nurturing parents. You know, even birds — birds don’t develop properly unless the mother and father bird are there. Bears, cats, rats, mice. Although, most of all, human beings, because human beings are the least mature and the most dependent for the longest period of time.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the importance of attachment?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Attachment is the drive to be close to somebody, and attachment is a power force in human relationship — in fact, the most powerful force there is. Even as adults, when attachment relationships that people want to be close to are lost to us or they’re threatened somehow, we get very disoriented, very upset. Now, for children and babies and adolescents, that’s an absolute necessity, because the more immature you are, the more you need your attachments. It’s like a force of gravity that pulls two bodies together. Now, when the attachment goes in the wrong direction, instead of to the adults, but to the peer group, childhood developments can be distorted, development is stopped in its tracks, and parenting and teaching become extremely difficult.
AMY GOODMAN: You co-wrote this book, and you both found, in your experience, Hold on to Your Kids, that your kids were becoming increasingly secretive and unreachable.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, that’s the thing. You see, now, if your spouse or partner, adult spouse or partner, came home from work and didn’t give you the time of day and got on the phone and talked with other people all the time and spent all their time on email talking to other people, your friends wouldn’t say, "You’ve got a behavioral problem. You should try tough love." They’d say you’ve got a relationship problem. But when children act in these ways, we think we have a behavioral problem, we try and control the behaviors. In fact, what they’re showing us is that — my children showed this, as well —- is that I had a relationship problem with them. They weren’t connected enough with me and too connected to the peer group. So that’s why they wanted to spend all their time with their peer group. And now we’ve given kids the technology to do that with. So the terrible downside of the internet is that now kids are spending time with each other -—
AMY GOODMAN: Not even in the presence of each other.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s exactly the point, because, you see, that’s an attachment dynamic. One of the basic ways that people attach to each other is to want to be with the people that you want to connect with. So when kids spend time with each other, it’s not a behavior problem; it’s a sign that their relationships have been skewed towards the peer group. And that’s why it’s so difficult to peel them off their computers, because their desperation is to connect with the people that they’re trying to attach to. And that’s no longer us, as the adults, as the parents in their life.
AMY GOODMAN: So how do you change this dynamic?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, first we have to recognize its manifestations. And so, we have to recognize that whenever the child doesn’t look adults in the eye anymore, when the child wants to be always on the Skype or the cell phone or twittering or emailing or MSM messengering, you recognize it when the child becomes oppositional to adults. We tend to think that that’s a normal childhood phenomenon. It’s normal only to a certain degree.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, they have to rebel in order to separate later.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: No. They have to separate, but they don’t have to rebel. In other words, separation is a normal human — individuation is a normal human developmental stage. You have to become a separate, individual person. But it doesn’t mean you have to reject and be hostile to the values of the adults. As a matter of fact, in traditional societies, children would become adults by being initiated into the adult group by elders, like the Jewish Bar Mitzvah ceremony or the initiation rituals of tribal cultures around the world. Now kids are initiated by other kids. And now you have the gang phenomenon, so that the teenage gang phenomenon is actually a misplaced initiation and orientation ritual, where kids are now rebelling against adult values. But it’s not because they’re bad kids, but because they’ve become disconnected from adults.
AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Maté, there’s a whole debate about education in the United States right now. How does this fit in?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, you have to ask, how do children learn? How do children learn? And learning is an attachment dynamic, as well. You learn when you want to be like somebody. So you copy them, so you learn from them. You learn when you’re curious. And you learn when you’re willing to try something, and if it doesn’t work, you try something else.
Now, here’s what happens. Caring about something and being curious about something and recognizing that something doesn’t work, you have to have a certain degree of emotional security. You have to be able to be open and vulnerable. Children who become peer-oriented — because the peer world is so dangerous and so fraught with bullying and ostracization and dissing and exclusion and negative talk, how does a child protect himself or herself from all that negativity in the peer world? Because children are not committed to each others’ unconditional loving acceptance. Even adults have a hard time giving that. Children can’t do it. Those children become very insecure, and emotionally, to protect themselves, they shut down. They become hardened, so they become cool. Nothing matters. Cool is the ethic. You see that in the rock videos. It’s all about cool. It’s all about aggression and cool and no real emotion. Now, when that happens, curiosity goes, because curiosity is vulnerable, because you care about something and you’re admitting that you don’t know. You won’t try anything, because if you fail, again, your vulnerability is exposed. So, you’re not willing to have trial and error.
And in terms of who you’re learning from, as long as kids were attaching to adults, they were looking to the adults to be modeling themselves on, to learn from, and to get their cues from. Now, kids are still learning from the people they’re attached to, but now it’s other kids. So you have whole generations of kids that are looking to other kids now to be their main cue-givers. So teachers have an almost impossible problem on their hands. And unfortunately, in North America again, education is seen as a question of academic pedagogy, hence these terrible standardized tests. And the very teachers who work with the most difficult kids are the ones who are most penalized.
AMY GOODMAN: Because if they don’t have good test scores, standardized test scores, in their class —
DR. GABOR MATÉ: They’re seen as bad teachers.
AMY GOODMAN: — then they could be fired. They’re seen as bad teachers, which means they’re going to want to kick out any difficult kids.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s exactly it. The difficult kids are kicked out, and teachers will be afraid to go into neighborhoods where, because of troubled family relationships, the kids are having difficulties, the kids are peer-oriented, the kids are not looking to the teachers. And this is seen as a reflection. So, actually, teachers are being slandered right now. Teachers are being slandered now because of the failure of the American society to produce the right environment for childhood development.
AMY GOODMAN: Because of the destruction of American childhood.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: That’s right.
AMY GOODMAN: You write in your book about the phenomenon of peer orientation and the legacy of it, why we must hold on.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: So, we only have a few minutes right now, but can you talk about both? Especially how parents break this cycle. And not only parents, but elders in the community.
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Well, first of all, what the problem reflects is the loss of the community and the neighborhood. We have to recreate that. So, the schools have to become not just places of pedagogy, but places of emotional connection. The teachers should be in the emotional connection game before they attempt to be in the pedagogy game.
Kindergartens — studies in the States have shown that children in the kindergartens have higher stress hormone levels than those kids at home — than those kids at home, except in those daycares where there’s a decent adult-to-child relationship. Parents should not encourage sleepovers and playdates all the time. Kids have already spent all their time with together throughout the whole week in the absence of the parents, because both parents have to work, especially in this economy.
AMY GOODMAN: But isn’t it good, isn’t it different, when the kids are at home, so that the parents are there, they can see the friends, they can interact with the friends?
DR. GABOR MATÉ: Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with kids having friends. It’s a question of, do they do it under parental leadership, or do they do it in separation from the parents?
Then we have to learn how to teach kids discipline without punishing them, because punishment drives a kid further away from the parent, so that, in North America, the whole way that we raise kids, the context is wrong, and the methods that people are taught are wrong. And then, no wonder then that we’re having such a huge problem with our children in adolescence.
AMY GOODMAN: Canadian physician, Dr. Gabor Maté, author of four books, including Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates and What You Can Do about It and, with Dr. Gordon Neufeld, Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More than Peers.