Recent headlines are spotlighting a new habit among parents who want their kids to go to sleep on time: They are drugging them with a synthetic version of the hormone melatonin.
Wait a second. Wasn’t that the big gripe (never proven) about Casey Anthony? Everyone was up in arms about the notion that she might have drugged her daughter to get her to sleep.
Melatonin is produced by the pineal gland in the body and is linked to sleep/wake cycles. It influences multiple parts of the body, including the pituitary gland. While one study indicated there didn’t seem to be risks associated with giving melatonin to children, no one really knows—in the short-term and, certainly, in the longer-term.
What seems clear is that giving kids melatonin to put them to sleep will discourage them from finding natural ways of self-soothing and quieting their minds, so they can achieve sleep normally. It can train them, in fact, (along with the use of stimulants for attention deficit disorder, etc.) to use one drug or another for every purpose—to wake up, to concentrate, to relax or to go to sleep.
It should come as no surprise that some parents would turn to melatonin because we have, as a culture, turned in a wholesale fashion away from self-possession and self-determination, toward external ways of solving every emotional/psychological/physiological issue.
Our kids are drugged already by the Internet, in general, and Facebook, in particular. Our kids are treated by the millions with stimulants for ADD (which are often necessary, but just as often not necessary). And our adolescents and teens are routinely—yes, routinely, by the millions—using marijuana daily to modulate their irritability and sadness, in a losing race to obliterate their own feelings.
Drugging kids who are 5, 6, even 8 years old, to get them to sleep, rather than teaching them that it is OK to sometimes struggle to get to sleep, is just another chapter in the sorry story of our population’s psychological decline—led by lazy, lousy parents.
When we look back at that decline, we will see many points of reference on the timeline: The abandoning of psychotherapy as a healing art by the American Psychiatric Association, the publication of Listening to Prozac (which was also an argument against listening to people and their feelings), the giving of fake trophies to every kid (whether winners or losers), the wholesale distribution of marijuana via decriminalization, the advent of designer drugs, the epidemic of addiction to the Web, and, yes, the medicating of kids with melatonin.
Keith Ablow, MD is a psychiatrist, and was host of the nationally-syndicated "Dr. Keith Ablow Show." He is a former member of the Fox News Medical A Team.