Living in a Social World
Psy 324: Advanced Social Psychology
Spring, 2000

Reconstructing Social Norms: The Over-Medication of American Youth

Selection & Analysis by
Stephanie Allen, Pamela Davis
Adam Richardson, & Brent Scott


Cartoon by John S. Pritchett

    It is no secret that the United States is a chemically- dependent country, but what are the impacts on our society and our children? The editorial cartoon depicts a physician armed with Prozac and Ritalin offering a young boy psychotropic drugs. The illustration raises a number of questions concerning social psychological concepts such as schemas, persuasion, and social norms.

    If asked to describe a drug dealer in America, many would think of an uneducated, inner - city youth who deals crack cocaine, marijuana, and lsd among other illegal drugs. this description directly relates to the schemas held concerning categories of people. While numerous individuals hold this stereotypical view of someone who sells illegal substances, these assumptions are challenged by the changing nature of the American medical model. the out-dated schema is being replaced with a newer version of doctors writing out prescriptions for legal drugs that are just as harmful.

    The over - diagnosis and over - medication of children in our society with ADHD also raises the issue of persuasion. With the spotless white coat, degrees and certificates hanging on the hospital walls, and stethoscope slung around the neck, the physician poses as a daunting authority figure. Patients automatically assume that all doctors are intelligent and honest because they attended medical school and took the Hippocratic Oath. However, some are employed by health care organizations that are only concerned with making a profit. Moreover, statistics have shown an increasing amount of doctors who --accidentally or intentionally -- misdiagnose their clients.

    In light of the over -medication phenomenon, certain social norms are being restructured by those in society. The traditional family of working dad, homemaker mom with 2.3 children and a dog is slowly vanishing. this model is being replaced by dual - career families and households headed by a single parent. With little patience for energetic kids, the adage of children being "seen and not heard" is being enforced with the help of prescribed drugs. Not only are parents following these guidelines, but so too are many teachers. it is not acceptable to truly act child-like in today's society.

    According to a March 6th issue of Time magazine, doctors are prescribing psychotropic stimulants like Ritalin to children as young as two years old. In addition, the number of prescriptions written has jumped by as much as 200 and 300%. Alternatives to drug therapy are also being considered. These include behavioral therapy for the hyperactive youth and family counseling. While these forms of treatment are more time consuming than pill - popping, there are less dangerous side effects.

    A poll taken in class to assess the number of students who knew of someone who was prescribed Prozac or Ritalin, reveals how prevalent drugs are in American society. Nearly three-fourths of the class raised their hands in answer to the question. From deals made in back alleys, student pushers on college campuses, and internet access to drugs, as well as excessive prescriptions written by licensed physicians, drugs are an integral part of American society. In the midst of prescription drugs advertised on television commercials, viewers must learn to question authority figures. By thinking critically about social norms, and the values and beliefs held about children, the public can learn to combat the financially driven motives of corporate America.


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Social Psychology / Miami University (Ohio USA). Last revised: Thursday, April 18, 2002 at 15:17:10 . This document has been accessed 1 times since 1 Jan 2000. Comments & Questions to R. Sherman