New Interview of John by Susan Hill Clay
In his 22-year career as a psychologist, John Breeding has witnessed a virtual explosion in the number of children said to be afflicted with learning disabilities and social phobias. Today, an estimated 15% of youths in the U.S. have been diagnosed with alleged mental illnesses ranging from widely known attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression to the more obscure oppositional defiant disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and conduct disorder. The most common form of treatment: psychotropic drugs, from stimulants (Ritalin, Concerta, Adderall are the most popular) to anti-depressants (Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft, to name a few).
Dr. Breeding, who earned a PhD in school psychology from the University of Texas at Austin in 1983 and has a counseling practice in the same city, is one of a growing number of professionals and parents who are sounding alarm bells nationwide. He has made it his mission to waken America both to the bogus diseases that children are being tagged with and to the devastating effects of the potent pharmaceuticals used to control the symptoms. In two books – The Wildest Colts Make the Best Horses (1996) and True Nature and Great Misunderstandings (2002) – and on his website, www.wildestcolts.com, Breeding makes a compelling case for why parents, educators, social workers, health care practitioners, and legislators need to reexamine the way society regards and cares for its children. Freelance writer Susan Clay, of Houston, Texas, recently talked with him about how all of us can help free children from being falsely identified.
Why do you love working with children?
Children have boundless energy and vitality. They're fun to play with! I find their insatiable curiosity, amazing insights and wide-eyed awe contagious.
Are these qualities children innately possess, or are they learned behaviors?
It's obvious they are born with these wonderful qualities – plus many more. When I'm around children of all ages, I see how intelligent, even brilliant, they are. They are resourceful and responsible, full of zest and glee, strong and self-determined, not to mention affectionate, gentle, kind. These traits, inherent in children, are their true nature. Children are gloriously made spiritual beings.
How do you know that babies don't come into this world as blank slates?
Behavioral psychology argues that children arrive dumb, like mindless machines awaiting programming. That's one of the "great misunderstandings" I refer to in my latest book. In two decades as a psychologist and a parent, I just haven't found any blank slates or empty tanks or dumb machines out there. Such a faulty belief denies that we are complete and whole from the start, needing only to be nurtured and developed. Children are like buds – perfectly formed, but requiring basic nutrients to blossom at their own pace.
In the book, you mention another misunderstanding -- that children are born into sin. Why is this untrue?
Take time to look with delight at children. Observe their joy, their enthusiasm. How could anyone think that innocent kids are born into original sin? This shame-based theology, as I call it, seems contrary to what Jesus must have been thinking when he said the kingdom of God belongs to little children. I think he was asking us all to be child-like – naturally joyous, carefree, gentle. When parents see children as fallen, depraved sinners who need to be saved, it's terribly destructive to their well-being.
What other beliefs about children stem from misunderstanding their true nature?
Biopsychiatrists put forth the notion that children come into this world with biological or genetic defects. They start with the premise that children must be forced to adjust to school and to society. Failure to adjust, they say, is a sign of, and a result of, a mental illness. From there, they say mental illness is a diagnosable medical disease. This disease, they insist, is a result of inborn defects and, as such, is chronic, progressive and basically incurable. That notion leads them to the conviction that the perceived disease can only be controlled by drugs or, if severe enough, by electroshock. I term biopsychiatry a pseudo-medical profession, because it is not scientific, and it is not even about medicine, but about social control of our children. Like the other two misunderstandings I already mentioned, it is motivated by fear – the fear that children possess a flawed nature and that that this flawed nature will win out unless coerced into submission.
Have our misunderstandings of children deprived them of their rights?
Totally. First off, you are stigmatizing them for life when you stamp the word "defective" on their mental-health records at school. Just as bad, the minute you put children on a drug, you have started them down a path of dependency, of addiction. Who knows how many different drugs they will end up getting hooked on? So you're automatically robbing them of liberty, of self-determination, of a right to develop their character in a drug-free state. Never mind that you have subjected them to a figurative straitjacket that stifles their creativity and individuality. I haven't even spoken of the harmful physical effects, immediate and long-term, actual and potential, of these poisonous toxins. What a life sentence to impose on a child! To me, drugging our children is a form of institutionalized child abuse.
Then why are adults accepting these theories, to the point where some 9 million children are reportedly taking one or more psychotropic drugs daily?
Because, unfortunately, most adults buy into whatever is promoted by the presumed experts. They don't question authority figures and so-called science. One of my favorite sayings, from American humorist Josh Billings, is, "It's not that people don't know anything, it's that they know so many things that ain't so." People tend to be conditioned by their culture. And our culture these days, with its emphasis on consumerism, on competition, on compulsive busyness, makes it easier to pop a pill than to change a lifestyle, a time schedule, a school – commitments that require hard work, deep thought and big sacrifices. Also, people are influenced by propaganda. The drug companies, experts at marketing their products, have been targeting children as a growth market, since the 1980s. Keep in mind, too, that the educational system has become bosom buddies with the psychiatry profession, which in turn is allied to the pharmaceutical industry. It used to be that youths in school were not directed into psychiatric counseling until they were in their late teens. But now the main entry point into psychiatric diagnoses and treatment for a child is upon entry to elementary school! So it's not hard to see how parents and educators have become comfortable with prescribing drugs to children.
What can parents do to educate and arm themselves?
Many things. Read not only my books but others listed in the "parenting resources" pages at the back of True Nature. Go to www.wildestcolts.com and also to www.ablechild.org, which was founded by a parent whose child was dismissed from his public school because she refused to keep giving him psychiatric drugs, and involves other parents whose children have died from psychotropic drug use. Lots of information is provided on those sites, and many courses of action are suggested, including signing petitions, contacting legislators and posting information on school and community bulletin boards. For example, both sites have a declaration that parents can sign if they reject the federal government's fledgling New Freedom Commission, which mandates universal mental health screening of children in the schools. We believe the commission's recommendations are a direct assault on child and family privacy and pose a real threat to our children's well-being.
Have you helped any children get off these psychiatric drugs?
Yes, many. One dramatic story involves a young girl who was diagnosed as depressed, bipolar and suicidal by a Teen Screen program at her school. Children's Protective Services took her away from the home because her parents refused to medicate her. Over the course of nine months, CPS put her on 14 drugs. These parents were fighters, and they found support, and they stood up to the authorities, and brought their daughter home. I helped them prove that she is a normal, healthy, able child. We got her off 12 of the drugs, and then weaned her off the last two. She is now back in school and happily involved in classes and after-school activities again.
How did you approach this challenge?
The first point I try to get across in my work with parents is that the main effect you have on your child is not what you do, but who you are. The state of your own thinking has the biggest effect on your child. To help your youngster, you must get straight inside yourself, clean out your own emotional baggage, so you can be fully present with the child in a clear, conscious way. The second thing I emphasize with parents has to do with the image they hold of their child. Do they see their child as flawed and defective? Then that's what they are supporting and developing in their child. Or do they see their child as happy, confident, whole and successful? If so, the child is much more likely to act that way. It's not what we do for or to our children that counts. It's how we look at who they are in their true nature that makes all the difference. As I say in my book, "Perhaps the greatest gifts we can give to our children are to see them through the eyes of delight and to be with them in an attitude of relaxed confidence that they are turning out well."
Is this the way to truly love our children?
Yes, it is the way we help our children find their purpose, their niche in life, and it is the way to make sure they feel loved. I believe that the energies of love are abundant in us. Our work is to find out who we are – how we are completely connected to that love – and then to find ways to cultivate and express that love. Love is most felt when parents (and that includes me!) approach their children with humility and faith-filled awe and respect
Do you believe that a divine Creator plays a role in this love? In other words, that this love springs from a Source that is higher than human?
I'm not sure how to define it, but I do know that whatever creative force or intelligent being exists – whatever has caused us to be -- did not make us insignificant or unholy or unworthy. In True Nature, I quote Bo Lozoff, director of the Human Kindness Foundation and author of It's a Meaningful Life, where he says, "I could characterize nearly any spiritual practice as simply being: identify and stop, identify and stop, identify and stop. Identify the myriad forms of limitation and delusion we place on ourselves, and muster the courage to stop each one. Little by little deep inside us, the diamond shines, the eyes open, the dawn rises, we become what we already are." This tells me that what we already are has to have come from a source that is greater than ourselves.
It sounds like you would agree with the definition of "children" offered by Mary Baker Eddy in her seminal book on spirituality, Science and Health, where she identifies them as "the spiritual thoughts and representatives of Truth, Life, and Love." The capitalized words she uses as synonyms for God, to describe His nature, and the nature He imparts to His creation.
I like to ask, "Do we teach our children about the law of force, or about truth force? Do we show them the law of force, or the law of love? Do we trust in their true, loving, glorious nature, or do we try to force them into some notion of how we are supposed to be in a fear and shame-based coercive society?" So, yes, they are all faces of God, and I know no better way to experience the glory of life than in relationship to a child. Being with them proves to me that the energy of God is loving, sure, truthful, but also free and fearless. Hence, the wildest colts do make the best horses!
Dr. Breeding, you write a lot in your book about the detrimental effect of adults trying to control a child's thoughts and behavior, either with drugs or some other form of coercion. Tying that idea into your concept of our Maker, could you say that this same Intelligence, or Mind, not only creates but also controls its offspring – by giving them the innate ability and desire to control their own thoughts and actions?
I'll answer by telling Chuang Tzu's story of a gardener named Old Camelback. When asked how one should plant and tend to a young tree, Old Camelback gave his prescription, "In planting trees, be careful to set the roots straight, to smooth the earth around, to use good mould and to ram it down well. Then, don't touch the trees, don't think about them, don't go and look at them, but leave them alone to take care of themselves and let nature do the rest. I only avoid trying to make trees grow. Others are forever running backwards and forwards to see how they are growing, sometimes scratching them to make sure they are still alive, or shaking them to see if they are sufficiently firm in the ground, thus constantly interfering with the natural bias of the tree and turning their affection and care into an absolute bane and curse. I only don't do these things. That's all." Like Old Camelback, we need to provide the proper conditions for our young people to grow and thrive. We need to trust in the natural unfolding of the unique interests and abilities of our children. And we need to have faith in their willingness to be responsible -- to be in control of their thinking, their behavior and even their own destiny. When in doubt, trust the child.