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Watch the TV segment at the link above, or read the transcript below for information on child behavior problems.

WCAX: Now it’s time for Peace of Mind with Dr. David Rettew, he’s a child psychiatrist at the UVM Medical Center and also teaches at UVM’s College of Medicine. Thank you for being here.

Dr. Rettew: Nice to be back.

WCAX: Tonight we are focusing on behavioral problems with kids. What is that defined as? What does it mean for your child if they have a behavioral problem?

Dr. Rettew: Well that could include anything from a formal psychiatric diagnosis, anything from ADHD or depression or an anxiety disorder, or just people who score high when given a questionnaire about their level of depressive symptoms or aggression or something like that.

WCAX: It seems like it’s a wide range of what it can be.

Dr. Rettew: Yeah, a huge range, yes.

WCAX: Do kids today have more behavioral problems than kids in the past?

Dr. Rettew: Well a lot of people think so, right? There’s this tendency for the adult generation to always think that the generation behind them is in a lot of trouble, but it turns out that when you look at the statistics a lot of things are looking very promising in a lot of ways.

WCAX: Because I guess, generations of the past or something that I often hear is that we’re not firm enough with our children today, that we let them sort of get away with too much, and that this idea of behavioral problems is not really rooted in reality, it’s just how, it’s how we treat our children that allows them to act up. Is that the case?

Dr. Rettew: I hear that a lot too but actually that’s one of the things that looks like it’s getting a lot better. So when you look at measures of aggression, and rule breaking, that’s a lot better than it was 30 or 40 years ago. When it comes to substance use, despite the pictures on the, that you were showing earlier, it looks like with the exception of cannabis, that the rate of alcohol use and nicotine among adolescents is at historic lows. Graduation rates are up, teen pregnancy rates are down, and a lot of things there’s a lot of hopeful signs that things are maybe not quite as bad as it seems.

WCAX: Okay, so you’re hopeful, you say things are gonna be all right, why is that the case?

Dr. Rettew: Well one of the things that might be going on is that the reasons behind some behavioral problems, things like child abuse and bullying, these are still huge problems, but it also looks like those things have been decreasing over the past 20 or 30 years. And also, people like me, who are in the mental health profession would love to think that all of the treatment that we’re now giving to kids is having an effect, although that can be a hard thing to show for sure.

WCAX: Treatment, you mean, medication? Or?

Dr. Rettew: Not just medication, but all the comprehensive mental health treatment that we now try to offer for kids.

WCAX: You say things are getting better, but what are the areas where it might be getting worse?

Dr. Rettew: Well, one thing that is going the other direction is that certainly the number of kids receiving a diagnosis are going up, but it looks like that’s because what we’re calling a diagnosis is at a lower level than it was before. And perhaps the most concerning thing that’s going in the wrong direction has to do with adolescent depression and suicide rates, which unfortunately even for our youngest kids are rising steeply over the past five or six years for reasons we don’t quite understand.

WCAX: Hmm, what can adults do about addressing that serious problem?

Dr. Rettew: Well, two things. I think one, adults should be trying to create a healthy environment as they can, whether or not you’re a parent or a teacher or whatever role you have, and then if you do see a kid who’s struggling who may have a serious problem, then I think we should encourage them and help them to get treatment, that it’s like other kinds of problems, that it’s hard to just buck up and snap out of it, you need help.

WCAX: What are some lessons from the past that we can sort of learn from? What things did we sort of used to do when it came to treating kids with behavioral problems that we need to stray away from?

Dr. Rettew: Well like you were alluding to before, a lot of people talk about the good old days when discipline was much harsher, now that things have relaxed a bit I think we’re also seeing that those kind of behavioral problems, if anything, are getting better. For instance there’s fewer kids who are incarcerated now than many years ago, and that was before those days of much harsher parenting measures.

WCAX: Mm, such a fascinating issue. Thank you so much.

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