Becoming Thoughtful About Our Children’s Futures

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our children our futures

By Dennis D. Embry, Ph.D.

Welcome to the first of my regular columns for the Children’s Mental Health Network. The column is not about my child or your child. It’s about all our children. To many, this will seem odd—living in a contemporary culture about mine, mine and screw you.

My column series deals with the ongoing paradox of our species. We are the main source of safety from other humans, and we are the major predator of other humans. Any given human is both predator and prey. How is this relevant to children’s mental health?

The answer is disturbing. Most mental, emotional, behavioral and psychiatric disorders emerge from this paradox. Oh, but are not genes or biochemical “imbalances” responsible for the array of DSM disorders afflicting children and adults? That postulate bumps up logic and fundamental notions of Mother Nature, evolution, religion, or whatever your theories are.

If it’s genes causing all these mental illnesses, then what on evolutionary or creation story would be the cause of 1-out-of-2 children to have had DSM disorder by age 18?[1] If it is some widespread “biochemical imbalance,” then what is the biological cause of more than 50% of all children in America receiving at least one psychotropic script for a DSM disorder in 2009 documented by the Wall Street Journal.[2] If it is God’s punishment for Americans straying from the Judeo-Christian message, then why do non-religious Scandinavian countries have a smaller percentage of children with these disorders?

Some (not the faithful of Children’s Mental Network) may be inclined to dismiss these trends as the fretting of the worried well and attention seekers. Other data merit our attention about the existential threats of these trends to our futures. The Mission Readiness Group (retired 4-star generals) report that 71% of our 17 through 25-year-old young people do not meet the mental or physical standards to enlist in our Armed Services.[3] Children’s mental-health services are the largest single expense for Medicaid, rising a billion dollars a year.[4, 5] And, schools, teachers, and families are beyond reason—stressed by the rise in special education needs from Autism, ADHD, and children dying by suicide.

All these trends happening to our children will determine our futures, as families, communities, and even nations. Each week I will examine the deep science of these issues—from genes, biochemistry, culture, and evolution. And then, what might be done practically to better all our futures. My first column will be tackling the Opiate Epidemic.

embryDennis Embry, President/Senior Scientist at PAXIS Institute – Dennis D. Embry is a prominent prevention scientist in the United States and Canada, trained as clinician and developmental and child psychologist. He is president/senior scientist at PAXIS Institute in Tucson, Arizona. Dennis Embry serves on the scientific advisory board for the Children’s Mental Health Network, the board of the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, and the National Advisory Council of the U.S. Center for Mental Health Advisory Council. 


  1. Dennis Embry's avatar
    Dennis Embry
    | Permalink
    Dear Meg and Beverly, you both correctly frame the issues. It's not what is wrong with the kids, their parents, or their teachers. Rather, it's what the heck is happening that so many kids, teens and adults are experiencing these symptoms? And, then what in God's name can we do to turn off this epidemic quickly? As as pretty damn good scientist, future columns will delve into that and simple, practical solutions that may shock people. It's good too remember over and over again in science and medicine have yielded powerful yet simple strategies that eradicated terrible ills in the past—much to the chagrin of vested theories, status, and even money. Think how John Snow proved cholera could be contained by a different water supply, for which he was initially hated because it challenged prevailing theory.. And think of how childbed fever was cured by having doctors wash their hands, for which the Viennese Medical Society had Dr. Semmelweis put in a mental institution. I hope none of those things happen for me (smile). A forthcoming column addresses what good science is showing is the culprit in the rise of Austim. A clue: it's nothing you've heard on TV, but the really good science of it is easily accessed at
  2. Beverly's avatar
    | Permalink
    Hi Meg,
    I come to realize the question today should be, "What Happened To Them, Instead of, "What's Wrong With Them?" As a parent with lived experience I feel emotionally overwhelmed at times with my daughter and how she is frowned upon because of her issues.
  3. Meg's avatar
    | Permalink
    I appreciate your raising these questions. As a mother, human being, world citizen, and mental health clinician - I use a social and end econoimic justice lens in all aspects of my work and life. I am beyond horrified as we label and pathologize and medicate our children - who are so deeply impacted by classism(poverty), racism, sexism. The labeling/pathologizing/meidcating happens when they protest/react/show their feelings of pain and fear and outrage which is a normal, human reaction to what is happening around them (and what has happened in their families through the generations). How can we shift the focus from what is "wrong" with our children to full support of parents, caregivers, and teachers - so that children and families who are stuggling get real resources to support them in their healing and recovery?
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