Jerome Kagan
Why Not Tutoring Instead of Pills?

This is a summary of an interview with Jerome Kagan in Spiegel International Online, August 2, 2012.  The interview was conducted by Johann Grolle and Samiha Shafy.

Jerome Kagan is one of the country's most influential psychologist of this century.  He has done extensive research in the area of a child's development such as  temperament and behavior at Harvard University for more than 30 years.

Kagan has done extensive research on children in their first months of life and determined that ill affects on children in their early months are reversible IF the child is later raised in a favorable environment.

According to Kagan, doctors are over diagnosing ADHD, ADD, bipolar and depression based on the fact that children "act skittish" or are highly reactive to situations such as noise or new people around them.  He says that about 20% of all children will become anxious adults.

Kagan believes that, "Poorer families, among immigrants and minorities, mental health issues have increased. Objectively speaking, adolescents in these groups have more opportunities today than they did 50 years ago, but they are still anxious and frustrated because inequality in  society has increased.  The number of diagnosed cases of attention-deficit disorders and depression has increased among the poor."

Today, one in eight children are diagnosed as mentally ill. 5.4 million children have symptoms of ADHD.  Kagan says that 50 years ago these kids were said to be lazy.  Today they have ADHD.

He believes that the diagnosis is manufactured because he says that "90% of the 5.4 million kids diagnosed with ADHD does not have an abnormal dopamine metabolism"(said to cause ADHD).

Kagan goes on to say that of "interviews with children and adolescents aged 12 to 19...40 percent can be categorized as anxious or depressed....but only 8% are seriously impaired by this anxiety or depression."  Kagan says that categorizing all 40% as being mentally ill (which needs medication) is "ridiculous."  Adolescents between ages 12-19 are anxious but that is a normal state based on decisions in "life and sexual frustration".

Jerome Kagan said that at one time he might have been considered to be one of the 5.4 million children today that is diagnosed with ADHD because he stuttered.  His mom told him that it was okay because his mind was just working faster than his tongue.

In 1987 depression was the number 1 epidemic among children.  At that time only 1 in 400 was treated with medication.  By 2002, one in 40 has been diagnosed with depression.   Kagan says that depression does exist in children but a very young child suffering from sadness from a loss does not warrant medication for depression. 

Depression to the extent that might need medication doesn't usually start until puberty.  Kagan believes that trends are set because a doctor may overstate a diagnosis and other doctors pick up on this statement and runs with it.  For instance, a group of doctors stated that kids with temper tantrums were bipolar, now most doctors who see children with temper tantrums as bipolar.  Kagan says these doctors need to ask more questions before prescribing strong medications.

When asked if there were any alternatives to giving psychoactive drugs to children with behavioral abnormalities, Kagan said tutoring is an alternative.  He stated that only children who aren't doing well in school are the ones diagnosed with ADHD.  If that is the case then wouldn't tutoring be better than pills?

Another Book by Kagan

In an interview in Psychology Today about Kagan's new book* the interviewer said:

He indicates that fewer than half of the illness categories in the fifth manual of mental illnesses published by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013 “are supported by robust scientific facts.”  If chronic gambling is, indeed, a mental illness, Kagan wonders why men and women who work in investment firms, many of whom find this activity as addictive as those who play poker online or in Las Vegas, are excluded.

Researchers and clinicians, Kagan points out, now lump together many brain “malfunctions” into a catchall category called the autism spectrum.  If the same approach was used for people who often feel tired, the media would declare “an epidemic of fatigue.”

*Jerome Kagan's new book: On Being Human:  Why Mind Matters. By Jerome Kagan. Yale University Press. 2016.


The year is now 2020 and I still agree with Dr. Kagan about tutoring instead of pills.  "Of course you would say that!" you are thinking because I am a reading specialist (some call me a tutor).

I have seen students on pills and students who don't take the pills.  Believe me when I say, the students who take the pills don't do better than those who aren't taking the pills.  So why take the pills.  Perhaps this is because when they work with me they are in a quiet setting and it is only the student and myself.

Every student's needs are different.  Every student learns differently than her peers.  Finding what works for each student takes time.  Unfortunately, unless your child is homeschooled, the optimum teaching environment may never be achieved for your child.

HOWEVER, again let me stress that this decision has to be left up to the parent.  The decision NOT to put a child on pills should come only after consulting with a team of people; teachers, doctors, other parents who have put their child on a pill, school psychologist and any other people who can help advise you.

IF a parent can afford tutoring, they MUST get it for their child outside of school hours IF they want their child to succeed in life.

Let me remind you that teaching reading and writing is my specialty.  I would be more than happy to talk with you about helping you help your child succeed because READING IS THE CORNERSTONE TO SUCCESS!

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