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Chemical Imbalance?

The other day I was talking to someone in his twenties or early thirties. I will call him Mathew. I mentioned how teenagers I work with are being told they have a "chemical imbalance." Mathew's face lit up and he said "Oh, yeah! That's what they tried to tell me!" Then he told me a little about his life. I don't remember all the details but I remember that he was kicked out of school for something when the teachers didn't believe him. Mathew, by the way, is one of the friendliest and most helpful people I have met in a long time.

When the school expelled Mathew, his father, instead of supporting him, kicked him out of the house. Mathew was 14.

Later Mathew got into some government housing and then was told by the government he could no longer live there either. He explained that a few years later he found out that his own father had actually convinced social services not to allow Mathew to live there. I ask myself what would make anyone who called himself a father do such thing? Was he driven to do it by Mathew's "chemical imbalance"?

By the way, I met the man who had given Mathew a place to live after he was evicted from the government apartment, so I have additional support for what Mathew told me. I add this because some teenagers I have tried to help have lied to me, even though Mathew would have little reason to make this up. I also visited the house where Mathew lived and where the man worked on computers, something which he had taught Mathew to do so Mathew was a computer technician when I met him.

Before his father kicked him out of the house, the father tried to convince Mathew that he had a "chemical imbalance." But after several visits to a psychologist, the psychologist told Mathew, "There is nothing wrong with you. Your father is the one who has a problem. And if anyone has a chemical imbalance it is him."

This is the first and only time I have ever heard of a psychologist saying something like this. The popular myth nowadays is that children and teens have chemical imbalances and it is never the fault of the parents, teachers and hurtful peers.

This "chemical imbalance" myth is so convenient. It lets the parents and teachers off the hook completely. This is especially convenient since most teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists and school counselors are also parents.

It reminds me of the time when adults would say that a child with "behavioral problems" -- in other words one that didn't obey -- was a "sinner" and was "possessed by the devil" etc.

This brings to mind the following Biblical passage. I will never forget the moment I found this passage. I was stunned. It was not until I was about 34 years old that I knew the bible contained this kind of thing. It doesn't talk about being a sinner here, but the general idea of blaming, labeling and punishing the child (or teen) is clearly evident.

A Rebellious Son

18 If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him, 19 his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. 20 They shall say to the elders, "This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a profligate and a drunkard." 21 Then all the men of his town shall stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid.

From http://bible.gospelcom.net/cgi-bin/bible?language=english&passage=deu+21&version=NIV

(Here is an interesting discussion of this passage.)

I believe time will prove that the idea that children and teens have a "chemical imbalance," -- which causes them to want to feel loved, valued, respected and in control of their own lives, and to show "behavioral problems" when these emotional needs are not met -- is as false as the idea that children are born sinners and that it is in the best interest of either the community or the world to stone them to death for being "stubborn, rebellious and disobedient."

S. Hein
July 8, 2003 - Australia

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