Its occurred to me lately that my 3-year-old son has developed a somewhat alarmingly unhealthy relationship with cherry-flavored children’s Tylenol. He asks for it when his nose is stuffy or when he has a sore throat. Other times he will claim that more unusual body parts are giving him trouble. His bellybutton say, or occasionally his hair. I’ve always just chalked it up to the fact that he loves the flavor, a sickeningly sweet concoction containing enough sugar and brilliant red dye to send any child into momentary raptures of hyperactive joy.
Lately, however, I’ve become a bit concerned because his preoccupation with treating ailments with medications has begun to expand beyond the aforementioned red goop. If I complain that I have a headache, he’ll immediately ask if I plan to take something for it. When his back was itching the other night, he called out from his bed to ask if I had any medicine that would scratch it for him. It’s obvious that hes already made a strong connection between physical ailments and chemical solutions and what’s even more upsetting to me, is that this is completely my fault.
I’ve been clean and sober for eight years now but Im the first to admit that even though I haven’t ingested anything stronger than Benadryl in all that time, I still have the mind of an addict. If something hurts, I take something. I’ve never fooled myself about this and there are times when I pop an Advil, that I am perfectly aware that my reasons for doing it are just as much psychological as they are physical. I never dwelled on it much, however, as I always figured that in terms of important issues to deal with, I had bigger fish to fry. If it makes me feel better to take an antihistamine after a couple sneezes, well it’s certainly the lesser of a bazillion other lurking evils.
Now that I’m pregnant and the only medicine remaining on the shelf is a bottle of Tylenol (which trust me, I have not neglected), this dependence has become even more glaringly obvious to me. Last month I had a nasty cold and spent many a waking hour lamenting the lack of Alka-Seltzer Cold Plus in my life. The crazy thing being, that even as I pined for the fizzy remedy, I admitted to myself that it had never really helped that much to begin with. I just wanted to take something.
It is now clear to me that my son has noticed this and that my attitude toward medicine is making a quick descent down the branches of the family tree. I realized the other day that although I’m always quick to appear with the noxious red syrup and a teaspoon at the first sign of any complaint on his part, I have never really sat down and talked with him about the purposes of medicine, and that while it can be very helpful, it can also be very harmful. I suppose that I always thought he was still too young but now I’m not so sure. I freak out if a man sits down next to us at the bus stop while smoking a cigarette but don’t think twice about running to the medicine cabinet at the first sign of a stuffy nose (and this, despite the fact that I’m well aware that there is not even any real evidence to show that these medicines work in young children). Somethings wrong with this picture.
Despite the fact that there are plenty of guidelines about how to talk to young children about smoking, drinking and illegal drugs, there is very little information out there about how to talk to young children about OTC (over-the-counter) medications. I find this surprising as it seems doubly important to talk to them about the substances that they see and are in some cases, already ingesting on a regular basis.
This is especially crucial in light of the fact that adolescent abuse of both prescription and OTC medications (such as cough syrup) has been on the rise in recent years. Whats more, studies show that although more parents are discussing the risks of alcohol and illegal drugs, for the most part, they are still not talking about the very real dangers of OTC and prescription drug abuse.
My son is only 3 but it is now clear to me that I am setting a dangerous precedent for him and that something needs to change in my whole approach towards medication. Any suggestions are welcome!