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Monday, February 10, 2014

Dr. Johnny Lops, child psychiatrist, reflects on the damaging pressure from testing on NYC parents, teachers and kids



Dr. Johnny Lops is a child psychiatrist who works at a hospital in Brooklyn and has a private practice.  His website is at Drjohnnylops.com; and he tweets at @drjohnnylops

It’s Monday morning and I am sitting in my office in a clinic in Brooklyn, NY that services primarily low income multi-cultural families.  My phone is blinking that I have a message, most likely over five.  I can already predict the variety of calls I am about to hear.  Many will be mothers informing me of complaints from school that their children have  been acting out again, or that they are not focused, or that they continues to show insufficient effort or motivation.  

Day in and day out, it seems the job of a NYC parents and teachers is becoming more stressful.  I make jokes to the parents of the kids I see that I would not wish my worst enemy to become a teacher in these times.   Gone are the days where teachers were allowed the time get to know their students or their parents and do what I hope schools would provide: the opportunity to develop good social skills, executive functioning , emotional intelligence  and enhance their moral development.  

What schools do instead is put an overwhelming, overbearing pressure on kids to achieve  high scores on standardized test s, on which their teachers are then evaluated..  Well, if I am a teacher, I don’t have time to work on the development of a child.  If my job is simply based on academics, then getting through lesson plans are most important.  If I have a child who has experienced trauma, copes with multiple stressors at home like a majority of my kids, has an anxiety/depressive disorder, and/or a behavioral disorder, these kids are negatively affecting my future. 

 I am very proud of the teachers that do contact me and provide more information about my kids’ mental well-being.  A majority of teachers are quite -tuned in to their student’s emotions.  I find the ability for teachers to make referrals to mental health clinics has improved.  My concern is that with all the stress on schools to produce high test scores, the children who do not carry the full range of academic, emotional, or social intelligence are falling behind, way behind, and they end up in my office developing real psychiatric conditions that are undermining their well –being.  

Parents wish they could complete the homework with them but a majority of my parents struggle academically as well.   I have in my office a stressed out mother AND a child, both developing low self-esteem because of their poor academic skills.  Furthermore, because  children are acting out, has not fully developed healthy executive functioning skills or emotional intelligence, they have less time to do homework, because they need to come see us at our clinic for therapy and/or medications to target their symptoms, many of which are caused by their academic struggles. 

I am happy to work for a clinic where my staff and I are committed to serving local families and can provide them the support they need.  I think all my colleagues would agree, though, that having schools become a place focused so exclusively on academics has put an incredible amount of burden on parents and staff, trying to find alternatives for children facing these pressures.  Watching children in my office exhibit so many psychiatric problems  is upsetting.  I just hope those running  the NYC Department of Education and the State Education Department re-evaluate their strategies to improve children’s outcomes.  

--Dr. Johnny Lops, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist


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