Knowledge is power.
Perhaps, but in a world where information is so readily available, I can’t help but wonder if knowledge is more likely to result in paranoia? Ask any Mum who has Googled her child’s medical symptoms at 2am and I’m sure she’ll agree.
My latest writing project features a young flamingo who has developed a fear of water. A simple plot but one which requires careful handling; childhood worries are not always straightforward to deal with and I don’t want to add to the confusion. I need to proceed with caution and be sure about the subject before my flamingo and I jump in.
Not knowing where to start I therefore decided to ask Jeeves. (Well Google actually but that didn’t read so well.) My search directed me to the Daily Mail Online and this article Is your child a psychopath? It would seem my flamingo has bigger issues than I thought.
As I read more, I discovered a checklist of things to look out for. Paranoia set in.
Forget the flamingo, what about my son? He is most definitely superficially charming when he wants his own way. Worse still he has at times lacked remorse – I’m simply not convinced he was really sorry when he ate my chocolate finger. My God I have spawned a monster!
What a load of pants. Tick box parenting gone mad.
Admittedly the Mail article does highlight that this is a controversial issue and that diagnosis is not straight forward. That doesn’t stop the author however suggesting we should look out for symptoms in difficult children from around the age of three. After all pocket-size psychopaths are more common than you or I would think.
Come on! Aren’t we all paranoid enough about the well-being of our kids? Before you ask me if my child is insane I’d like a little more substance please.
After all psychiatry is not exactly an industry known for its scientific endeavor. It isn’t that long ago that young women were labelled mentally ill just for getting pregnant and lobotomy was considered the norm.
In recent years the focus has shifted from demonisation to domination. It seems just about everyone is in need of psychiatric help and clearly children are not exempt.
The dubious nature of the psychiatry industry both petrifies and fascinates me. I recently read “The Psychopath Test” by Jon Ronson, an easily digestible and humorous overview of what he calls the madness industry. Ronson highlights the growing number of children in the US being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It is likely many are simply attention deficit yet they are put on a mind numbing cocktail of drugs designed to pacify them until they supposedly grow out of their condition. A normal childhood robbed by a check-list approach to psychiatry that de-contextualises behavior and reduces children to a list of very broad criteria.
Can we be sure the same is not true of these so called psychopathic children? A little bit of knowledge in a world dominated by tick box diagnostics is a very dangerous thing.
I still don’t know the answer to my flamingo’s problems but I do know one thing. As writers we have a huge responsibility. It is not enough just to tell a story or describe an issue. We also need to think about the subtext, the deeper meaning of the discourse. Sometimes words are not simply words. Let’s not trigger another wrong turn on the information highway.