'Ritalin Gone Wrong': Is ADHD Caused By Bad Parenting?

Dr. L Alan Sroufe has been fanning the flames of parental guilt lately by suggesting that one major cause of ADHD in children is... their parents.

This latest round came in the form of a New York Times Op-Ed piece titled "Ritalin Gone Wrong" in which Sroufe, who is a psychology professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, declared that too many kids are on drugs to treat the condition. Three million children would not be taking the medication, he wrote, if their parents hadn't "derailed" them psychologically in the first place.

The doctor gave a very specific example of what he meant. He wrote:

"... a 6-month-old baby is playing, and the parent picks it up quickly from behind and plunges it in the bath. Or a 3-year-old is becoming frustrated in solving a problem, and a parent taunts or ridicules. Such practices excessively stimulate and also compromise the child's developing capacity for self-regulation."

In the week since Dr. Sroufe weighed in, others have fired back. Dr. Harold Koplewicz, for one, who is president of the Child Mind Institute, pointed out on The Huffington Post, that Sroufe is painting the "ordinary mistakes" of "ordinary parents" as something sinister and dangerous, which is neither helpful nor accurate. Yes, parental patterns influence a child's development, he agreed, and counseling parents to do better is always helpful, but the fact is that parent-child interaction therapy can not cure the symptoms of ADHD. To suggest otherwise, he said on the "Today Show" this past weekend is to perpetuate a "heritage we have of this country of blame and shame."

Dr. Koplewicz appeared on the program with Dr. Nancy Snyderman, NBC's chief medical editor, and her comments reflected just how personally parents take the ADHD debate. Her child, she said, has been diagnosed with the condition, adding:

"There is a lot of self-doubt when you raise children that don't fit into societal norms, when you have a child who can't sit in circle time... that's seen as bad behavior, but it means the brain wiring is different."

Yes, she agreed, there is evidence that some children who receive medication might not need it. But not nearly the number that Sroufe suggests, and they are not candidates for that medication in the first place for the reasons Sroufe claims. Instead, she says, the drugs are designed to meet a biological "need for neurotransmitters that could help the brain's circuitry," and the proof is in conversation with parents whose children have been properly medicated and who will tell you it has changed their child's life.

What do you think? Is there something to Dr. Sroufe's argument? Or is it just one more way to blame parents for anything that might be amiss with their children?