Lobotomies and Ritalin – Striking Similarities

Vancouver, BC - For years, the human brain and mental illness have always been a bit of a mystery, especially when contemplating treatment of young children. While research exists for psychiatric medication on adults, there is no research for children, leaving medical professionals to ‘best guess’ on dosage and long term effects. The recent surge in psychiatric diagnosis and prescription of psychotropic medications (Ritalin, antidepressants, sedatives) for young children, seems to grotesquely parallel the 1940′s obsession with frontal lobotomies for mental illness. Both procedures are wholly lacking in research regarding consistency of assessment procedures, ‘dosage’ information, and long term outcomes. Both procedures are termed a ‘quick fix’, and are usually performed when the medical profession doesn’t know what else to do, but think they have to do something. Actually, both lobotomies and Ritalin for children are quite frankly unnecessary. Adult mental illness research abounds stating the positive benefits of exercise and movement, so why wouldn’t exercise and movement be the first line of treatment for a child with mental illness? Why can’t a doctor write a prescription for a 3 month ‘unplug’ trial from TV and videogames, with direction to play outside or join a sports team? Why does it have to be a prescription for an untested medication? Is giving children untested medication really any different than a lobotomy? Children with ‘mental illnesses’ quite simply just need to unplug from technology and go outside and play!

When exactly did it become abnormal for children to need to move? Society need only look to the past to see the changes technology has made in today’s human condition. Remember back when you were a child? You used to run, ride bikes and play all day. Slides were high, swings were long and merry-go-rounds and jungle gyms used to be a fixture in even the smallest town’s parks. Now children have reached ‘addiction’ level of 6.5 hours per day of TV and videogames, with research showing subsequent physical, mental and academic problems (obesity, diabetes, sleep and eating disorders, aggression, family conflict, early sexual experiences, attention problems, learning difficulties, and poor academic performance). Even though our society has become physically sedentary and ‘techno obsessed’, society doesn’t have the right to push this sedentary trend onto small children, and then medicate them when they get ‘hyper’. The human body needs to move, and when it doesn’t, it gets either agitated or ‘zoned out’, neither energy state conducive to listening or learning.

Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist concerned about the medication trend, has created a new and revolutionary program for children called Zone’in www.zonein.ca. Zone’in helps children learn to know and tone their energy zones, thus creating self responsibility for energy states. To help children reduce television and videogame (TVVG) use, the Zone’in website has a free download TVVG Help Module for parents and teachers, consisting of the following TVVG Addiction Scale, as well as the Survivor Unplugged Challenge and the TVVG Schedule.

Television/Videogame Addiction Questionnaire




Tolerance: “I watch the same amount of TV, or play the same amount of videogames as I used to, but it’s not as fun anymore.”


Withdrawal: “I can’t imagine going without TV or videogames.”


Unintended Use: “I often watch TV or play videogames for longer than I intended.”

Persistent Desire: “I’ve tried to stop using TV and/or videogames, but I can’t.”


Time Spent: “TV and videogames take up almost all my play time.”


Displacement of Other Activities: “I sometimes watch TV or play videogames, when I should be spending time with my family or friends, doing my homework or going to bed.”


Continued Use: < “I keep watching TV or playing videogames, even though I know it isn’t good for me.”

Total number of “yes” answers __________

If you answered “yes” to 3 or more questions, you are addicted to TV, videogames or both.

The obvious and more healthy alternative to medicating young children is to unplug them from technology. Unplug, don’t drug, it’s that simple. Unplugging children from all forms of technology e.g. television, videogames, cell phones, computers, iPods, MSN, Facebook, and Myspace, may actually eliminate the perceived need to drug them. Three months with no technology would do more for the mental and physical health of children than any medication on the market.

Media can visit Cris Rowan’s websites www.zoneintraining.com, www.zoneinworkshops.com and www.zoneinproducts.com which have a media kit, research section and a number of published articles on the impact of technology on child development. Cris has performed over 200 parents and teacher workshops, and is doing a lecture series at Simon Fraser University. Cris is finishing a book titled A Cracked Foundation: Repairing the Damage of Technology on Child Development and can be contacted for an interview on her cell 604-740-2264.

Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi
CEO Zone’in Programs Inc.
6840 Seaview Rd.
Sechelt, BC V0N3A4
1-888-896-6346, 1-877-896-6346 fax

Research Literature
American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Communications (2006) Children, Adolescents, and Advertising. Pediatrics Vol 118 No 6, 2562-2569. This paper points out that exposure of children to TV advertising correlates with obesity, poor nutrition, and cigarette and alcohol use.

American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Public Education (2001) Children, Adolescents, and Television. Pediatrics Vol 107(2), 423-426. This policy statement describes the negative effects of television viewing as violent or aggressive behavior, substance use, sexual activity, obesity, poor body image, and decreased school performance. This statement recommends no TV or videogames for toddlers under the age of 2, and a limit of 1-2 hours per day for children.

Autism Society America (2003) Facts and Statistics. Autism Spectrum Disorder. www.autism-society.org/site/PageServer?pagename=FactsStats. This article states that autism is the fastest growing developmental disability with 2003 prevalence of 0.7% with a 10-17% annual growth.

Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (2003) Mental Health in the United States: Prevalence of Diagnosis and Medication Treatment for Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5434a2.htm. This reports a 7.8% ADHD prevalence in 2003 with 56.3% of this population on medication.

Christakis D, Zimmerman F, DiGiuseppe and McCarty C (2004) Early Television Exposure and Subsequent Attentional Problems in Children. Pediatrics Vol 113, 708-713. This study reports that for every one hour of television watched per day, there is a 10% increase in attention problems by the age of 7 years.

Cotman C, Berchtold N and Christie L (2007) Exercise Builds Brain Health: Key Roles of Growth Factor Cascades and Inflammation. Trends in Neuroscience Vol 30 No 9, 464-472. This research profiles how exercise improves cerebral vascular perfusion, increases the production of neurogenic growth factor, and decreases inflammation with subsequent increase in the number and length of survival of nerve cells in the hippocampal region, implicated in learning and memory. This article also shows the positive effects of exercise on reducing depression.

Fisher R and Fisher S (1996) Antidepressants for Children – Is Scientific Support Necessary? The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease Vol 184 No 2 pages 99-102. This article is concerned with issues pertaining to the degree to which clinical therapeutic decisions can reasonably depart from the best available scientific data, and state that ambiguity exists as to how much freedom practitioners have to accept or reject the existing scientific paradigm.

Hillman C, Erickson K and Kramer A (2008) Be Smart, Exercise Your Heart: Exercise Effects of Brain and Cognition. Nature Reviews Neuroscience Vol 9 58-65. This article profiles the following studies: achievement in standardized test of reading and math was positively correlated with physical fitness scores; social isolation reduced positive effects of exercise on hippocampal neurogensis; exercise training improved depression; cognitive, physical and social engagement decreased the risk of dementia.

Kirsch I and Antonuccio D (2004) FDA Testimony On the Efficacy of Antidepressants With Children. Review of this testimony indicates that there are a total of 12 published randomized clinical trials in the entire world literature regarding the efficacy of antidepressant use with children. 8 of these 12 trials failed to find any significant benefit of medication over placebo, and the other 4 that did show benefit were clinician rated, not patient rated measures. This testimony also reports that overall, the effects of antidepressant medication on children is actually weaker than in adults.

Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, Overview of Mental Disorders in Children. This paper describes the general categories of mental disorders in children, assessment and treatment strategies, and goes into depth regarding psychopharmacology treatments stating that 1) there are no short or long term studies regarding safety and efficacy of psychotherapeutic medication in children, 2) there is limited information regarding the pharmacokinetics (drug concentrations in body over time), and 3) combined effectiveness of drugs and psychosocial treatments is rare. This report goes on to say that when the FDA approves a medication for general population use, approval is based on studies conducted on adults only. Therefore when a practitioner prescribes an “off label” drug for a child, the practitioner is required to “guess” the dosage parameters. Due to reluctance by the pharmaceutical companies to perform drug research on children as it was reportedly too “costly”, the US Congress subsequently passed the FDA Modernization Act 1999 Title 21 USC 505A (g) to create financial incentives for pharmaceutical companies to perform clinical research on children.

Michael K and Crowley S (2002) How Effective are Treatments for Child and Adolescent Depression? A Meta-Analytic Review. Clinical Psychology Review, Vol 22 pages 247-269. The authors of this paper reviewed and analyzed comprehensive sample 38 studies from 1980 – 1999 on the psychosocial and pharmacological treatment of child and adolescent depression and showed that while the psychosocial interventions provided moderate to large treatment gains, the pharmacological interventions were not effective in treating depressed children and adolescents.

Rideout V, Vandewater E and Wartella E (2003) Zero To Six: Electronic Media In The Lives of Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers. The Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation Report, California. This report documents the recent explosion of electronic media targeted at the very youngest of children 0-6 years of age, and states that 99% of homes have a TV, 36% have a TV in their bedrooms, 50% have a videogame player, and 73% have a computer. Despite the fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends toddlers under the age of 2 years should not use ANY electronic media, 68% use electronic media daily, 25% have TV’s in their bedrooms and average use is 2 hours 5 minutes per day. Regarding extent of TV usage, children are less likely to read in high use homes, TV use is not income dependent, but that there is less usage in homes where one parent holds a college degree.

Roberts D, Foehr U, Rideout V, Brodie M (1999) Kids and Media at the New Millennium: A Comprehensive National Analysis of Children’s Media Use. The Henry J Kaiser Family Foundation Report, California. This report documents that children spend on average 6.5 hours per day of combined media use (TV, videogames, computers), and 32% of 2-7 year olds and 65% of 8-18 year olds have TV’s in their bedrooms.

Zimmerman F, Christakis D and Meltzoff A (2007) Television and DVD/Video Viewing in Children Younger Than 2 Years. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine Vol 161 No 5, 473-479. This study showed that by 3 months of age, 40% of children regularly watched television, DVD’s or videos, and by 24 months 90%. Average duration rose form 1 hour per day for children less than one year old to 1.5 hours by 24 months.