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The result is an honest and important (even if repetitive and meandering) examination not only of the actual mental health "issues" or problems from which many children suffer, but of the deep undercurrent of societal and cultural "issues" that keep so many of us from acknowledging the seriousness of this situation. Indeed, Warner's own experience of having her assumptions turned inside out allows her to deftly reframe whose issues are getting in the way of meeting the real needs of children in psychological distress.
Our own, of course. "There's a lot of hot air circulating on the topic of children's mental health, and what the often outsized vitriol makes clear is that the passion is ideological and only tangentially about real children," Warner writes. Instead, it's about culture wars and our own anxieties. Unfortunately, those tangential arguments deflect us from facing the far more important issue: how to raise public awareness that problems rooted in the biology of the brain require resources that go beyond even the most caring parents? How to change public funding to support the educational and psychological needs of these children?
Warner waxes indignant—and at length—that as a nation we do so little for our children. But when it comes to solutions, she has less to say. That's too bad because her final chapter puts forward an action plan that I would've liked to have seen fleshed out. She recommends healthcare policies that emphasize early care; that the government disseminate reliable research on treatments that do and don't work; that medical schools train and recruit more specialists in childhood behavioral and psychiatric issues; that we as citizens unite to support legislation that regulates advertising for direct-to-consumer medications; that we work together to reframe the discussion of children's "issues" as one about illnesses that require treatment, as opposed to moralistically judging bad kids and bad parents. Most of all: that we find treatments specific to the ailment, not to a particular ideology.
Such was the education of Judith Warner—and for many readers, her book will prove to be an education as well.
Diane Cole is a contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report and the author of the memoir After Great Pain: A New Life Emerges. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. Tell us what you think about this article by e-mail at email@example.com, or log in and comment below.