kids, just say “no” to drugs

Karl Weckstrom wrote about his psoriasis, drugs, gaming and his son in his blog today that I left a comment on. I’m reposting the comment here in my own blog because I expressed some ideas that I’ve been mulling over in my own head for quite some time. Here’s what I posted:

When I was a kid growing up, a short attention span meant lack of discipline and self-control. I don’t think 20 years has changed that truth one bit, but it’s hard for pharmaceutical companies to sell drugs if they can’t change the perception about it, at least.

Drugs are not going to teach your son, or anyone else, responsibility, discipline and self-control. Strong role-models and solid mentoring might stand a better chance.

When I was growing up, I spent many hours entertaining myself with the most powerful computer that exists even today: my brain. I spent a lot of time learning rules and facts, being hyper-creative learning mythos and creating my own. I’m talking about sessions that could run 12-16 hours — now that’s an attention span. Yes, I’m talking about playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Kids today don’t exercise their brains like we did growing up. They play these virtualized computer games where the imagination is left in meatspace and you only interact with what you can see on screen that some programmer or product manager thought would make the game more compelling. This is way sad, IMHO.

Daniel Goleman writes in his book Emotional Intelligence about impulse control in what he calls “the marshmallow test”:

Just imagine you’re four years old, and someone makes the following proposal: If you’ll wait until after he runs an errand, you can have two marshmallows for a treat. If you can’t wait until then, you can have only one–but you can have it right now. It is a challenge sure to try the soul of any four-year-old, a microcosm of the eternal battle between impulse and restraint, id and ego, desire and self-control, gratification and delay. Which of these choices a child makes is a telling test; it offers a quick reading not just of character, but of the trajectory that child will probably take through life. (pp. 80-81)

Goleman goes on to say that there was a study done in the 1960s testing just this, tracking down the four-year-olds as they graduated from high school. The study showed that the kids who had exhibited the necessary impulse control even at four-years-old showed a “dramatic” difference. “Those who had resisted temptation at four were now, as adolescents, more socially competent: personally effective, self-assertive, and better able to cope with the frustrations of life.”

The book is full of valuable information like this. If you’ve got some time to read, you might want to pick it up — as an adult, I’m learning a lot of things reading the book, too.

The net is that drugs only help eliminate truly physiological barriers to self-improvement, but without the necessary foundation of structure, discipline and fostering of self-control, drugs alone will not bring about behavioral change.

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