Medicating Our Children – Is This The Real Cure?


 pills medicineBy Rabbi Dovid Abenson – Part 1

I was brought over to New York to evaluate five children ages from 7 to 13 years old, all from different schools. During the evaluations I was told that all 5 children were being medicated with Ritalin due to behavioural and concentration problems and were showing signs of ADD/ADHD.

When the evaluations were completed, I explained to the parents that the evaluation showed that their child’s poor Hebrew academic performance in school was due to underdeveloped scholastic skills which had been overlooked. In these cases, medication was being used as a band aid to cover up, albeit unintentionally, the child’s academic deficiencies.

I would like to preface here, before some readers get disgruntled by my lack of enthusiasm in using medication to help children achieve in school, that of course there is a place for using medication, but only in extreme circumstances and where each case needs to be scrutinized carefully.

The question I would like to ponder here, is whether medication is being overly prescribed to students, and whether underlying academic issues could be at play here which provide the fodder for a child to misbehave or lose focus.

In one of my previous visits to a certain well established city, I met with a number of top Menahelim. One of them asked me to evaluate a 13 year old child whom they were particularly struggling with and had advocated for the child to take Ritalin, and he had been taking it for the last five years. After evaluating the student, I explained to the Menahel that in my opinion, the reason why the student could not focus on his learning, was because he could not identify at least half of the Alef Bais. This scholastic deficiency was being played out in behavioural and concentration problems in class. But how was the boy expected to be able to sit and focus on text he considered to be “Chinese”. The principal had been unaware of this underdeveloped skill the boy had, and medication, which was a short term solution, was being substituted for a life long problem.

We, as parents and educators, have an obligation to find the source of why a child is proving to be an under achiever, and, as mentioned, this will be discussed in a future article. To reiterate, there are those circumstances where medication can help a child. But, are we being too liberal and acting irresponsibly when offering this medication to our children?

I have had discussions with Menahelim who have told me that they strongly push parents to give their child medication, and would suspend the child if the parents refused to give it, since they felt it was to the advantage of the student, improving their student’s behaviour, concentration and scholastic abilities. In fact one Menahel confided that 30% of his student body were being medicated. But from the above few examples I have mentioned, and there are many more I have not written about, we can see that very often medication is covering up under developed deficiencies, and what appears to be a chemical deficiency such as ADD or ADHD, it is really under developed skills which could easily be addressed.

The question remains, if we are using medication to band aid behavioural or concentration problems without addressing the underlying academic issues at hand. Is medication the true salvation or is it a quick fix for a deeper problem?

Rabbi Dovid Abenson is the founder and director, author and lecturer at Shaar HaTalmud, a unique yeshiva based online program, featuring evaluations and remediations, working with students to upgrade skills in Hebrew reading, chumash/rashi and gemara studies, consulting school principals world – wide, to improve their ability to discover students who possess under-developed skills. He can be reached at or 1-877-HATALMUD (428 2568).

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  1. During a heated discussion with a relative of mine who is a very highly successful teacher in an upper class school, the relative told me: “If about 70% (yes, you read correctly) of the class wouldn’t take Ritalin, I’d walk out of class every single day as a shmata”.
    To which I replied: ” Then YOU should’ve taken the Ritalin”.

  2. This is an advertisement for an individual
    True every child should be evaluated by competent medical personnel and getting second and third opinions but by professionals . There is no greater disservice that can be done to parents.

  3. Great article.

    The ‘medication’ is a dangerous short term ‘fix’, which backfires in a big way in the long term.

  4. medication is not usually the answer for children.That is not finding out what the issue is ,There are alternative treatments for adhd besides medication.Medicating a child is not always safe. If you have heard of neurofeedback or biofeedback that is one option to help adhd and with less side effects than medication.and there are other alternative treatments for adhd.

  5. There are incompetent people in all fields, including chinuch and including parenting. That does not mean that because a menahel or rebbi inappropriately diagnosed -something only a medical professional can do – a child as needing meds, that gives another unqualified rebbi the jurisdiction to diagnose/second guess a diagnosis. And a parent who is quick to give medication before exploring all learning issues is just as irresponsible. Granted there are side effects to the various medications, but at least acknowledge that there are side effects (drop outs from yeshiva/yiddishkeit, poor self image…) to NOT giving medication when warranted. Only when parents become informed consumers about both the pros and cons, can they make an educated decision. One-sided articles such as this one, with an agenda to promote a particular institution , that are designed to empower parents to reject even the possibility that their child would benefit from medication (the schools don’t know how to teach so they want to drug any kid who steps out of line etc.) are not helpful. I’m glad Rabbi Abenson has very broad shoulders. I certainly would not want to be in the position ten years down the road, explaining to any parent that, oops, maybe your kid wouldn’t have (fill in the blank) if we would have addressed his underlying issue with medication. Too late now, sorry!

  6. its not your position to judge if its correct. Unless you get a phd in psychiatry then you can continue to question medcines on the issue. You can’t just hand out meds without screening by qualified people.

  7. Rabbi Abenson,
    as a mainstream rebbi with a background that includes special ed. I appreciate your point that medication in some yeshiva maybe over prescribed (30 % unless there is something seriously odd about the demigraphs of that community sounds seriously excessive, but I suspect it the absolute extreme) however, one can ask why were there undeveloped basic skills? Was there an underlying attention or focusing issue that kept the child from learning the alef bais in the preschool and primary grades that wasn’t addressed.

    As a 6th grade rebbi I can personally attest to the difference seen in 2 minutes of class between a boy with ADD or ADHD that is on or off his medication. And these are boys that read fluently.

    While there is a huge issue with children falling through the cracks that leave yeshiva without being able to read, and this is a considerable factor in the “at risk” population, that MUST be addressed, I think one should be careful merging the two.

    Unfortunately as I’m sure you as a professional are well aware all too often parents who’s children genuinely should, based on medical assement be on medication hesitate or even refuse to do so becouse of real or perceived stigmas or ignorance. I fear that as valid as your point is we as educators and professionals have to measure our words so as not to fuel the arguments of those that withhold medication when it is truly called for.

  8. Why do we need articles that attack good chinuch systems. Out systems are not always perfect. In fact nothing is until yemei hamoshiach, but enough of these self professed idealists who know why our system is so wrong. It’s not nice.

  9. Cause and effect. They could be lacking the hebrew skills because adhd interfered with learning it in the first place. Without a medical degree he is not qualified. But this comment wont be posted. How low can you be not to post a comment that is totaly legitimate.

  10. Yashar koach to Rabbi Abenson, for recognizing that there are often underlying issues behind behavior that gets labeled “ADD/ADHD” and then results in a child being medicated. In Mishpacha’s early years, they did an article on a program based out of Tzfas called “Bederech Hamelech,” which evaluates and advises on non-medication ways to manage a child’s seemingly ADD behavior. Many times a child is actually gifted. And many more, like Rabbi Abenson writes, are kids who have learning difficulties.

    There are plenty of reasons why a child may be out of balance, thus creating ADD/ADHD-like behavior. Food, sleep, chemicals in the environment, vaccinations, all can contribute to difficult behavior. Well worth looking outside the Western box to find real answers rather than get your child (or self) medicated. NO drug is safe.

  11. Kudos to your article. I’ve been in chinch for many years and have advocated the same thing. I would dare say 95% or more of the student body taking meds. have false diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. Many students have either had a poor foundation of chinuch or general education, and they have have lacked the skills to get on in other classes.

    There was one boy I was paired up to help him learn his Bar Mitzvah Speech. I was flabbergasted to learn that he did not know proper Ivrah. All the rebbes and principals that penalized, and if I may say “patched” him all those years will have a day of reckoning. Yes, that boy was also medicated.

    Needless to say, I hope this will open up people to stand up to the status quo and say, ” enough is enough, and we stand for it any more.” It may help If enough people say it.

  12. you don’t need a medical degree to see that something is wrong here. why are all these kids on meds? might is be the food we eat?? might it be the massive amounts of shots kids today get? might it be the GMO’d food? we are so far away from the way Hashem created the world and the natural food that we are supposed to be eating. it is really no wonder that kids are not thriving and healthy and happy.
    i think we need to change the way we teach, not medicate all children into compliance!!! montessori style learning would probably be amazing for these kids and all kids.

  13. It seems that everyone is uneducated about ADHD and Education including Rabbi Abenson. First The scientific facts. ADHD is a condition that according to the vast majority of mainstream scientists is a very real condition that affects approximately 5 percent of the general population. There are a number of causes or potential causes of ADHD that have been identified by science Including Genetics, Epigenetics, Traumatic Brain Injury, Exposure to chemicals toxins or pathogens. It is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder. While there may be some over diagnoses of ADHD, there are appropriate screening methods to limit that possibility such as, Neurological testing by a neurologist, psycho educational testing and screening, evaluation by a medical doctor such as a psychiatrist. Some experts claim that certain types of brain scans can also help in making a definitive diagnoses. The basic premise and factor that distinguish ADHD from simple unruly juvenile behavior is that is sustained over extended periods of time for 6 months or more in multiple settings ,home, school, and other environments.
    While some individuals with ADHD have thrived and actually benefitted from the condition and some have called it a gift. The studies show that the vast majority of people with this problem suffer life long impairment without treatment and are at a higher risk of drug addiction, imprisonment, and failed relationships.
    Treatment may not necessarily have to include medication, but that has proven to be the most widely effective method.
    There is also the issue of the shortcomings of our yeshiva system which must not be left out of the discussion. In our system there are not many areas to succeed scholastically. If a kid is having a problem concentrating on Gemara, he is in trouble. Ideally there would be other subjects available so that a child could develop success in something to which he or she has a knack. Such as, Music, Sports, Public Speaking, Drama, Woodworking, Etc. Many of these things are available to public school students, and the community should make sure they are available to our students as well and should become essential parts of school curriculums.

  14. It is absolutely impossible for ANYONE to understand how these adhd children operate besides for their parents. Period.

  15. Best comment was No. 1.

    Why no reply though? The silence of no reply suggests that he doesn’t have expertise in the field