Date of Award

Winter 2005

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Heather Turner


Within recent years, prescriptions written for children's emotional and behavioral problems have increased significantly. Although this issue has garnered a great deal of public notice, it has received scant sociological attention. In this study, I investigate parents of children with problems, and those without, in an effort to gain insights into the social contexts that shape decisions around diagnoses and treatment. The bases of the theoretical underpinnings of this research are situated at the intersection of medicalization and mother-blame.

Survey data were collected from 235 parents in a single New Hampshire community. Respondents answered several open-ended questions on the questionnaire and fourteen additional in-depth interviews were conducted with parents whose children were at least suspected of having problems. Chi-Square Analyses and One-Way Analyses of Variance compared the ways in which parents conceptualize children's emotional and behavioral problems, as well as their attributions of origins, and their perceptions of blame and responsibility across four groups: (1) parents of children with no problems, (2) parents who suspect their children have problems; (3) parents whose children have diagnoses but are not using medication, and (4) parents treating their children medically. Qualitative data were used for corroborative and illustrative purposes.

Key findings demonstrate that: (1) despite rising prescription rates, most respondents' attitudes towards children's use of psychiatric medication are largely negative unless they have children for whom medication is prescribed; (2) most respondents of children without problems do not attribute children's emotional and behavioral disorders to problems with brain function, blaming poor parenting practices instead; (3) parents' decisions to medicate were most influenced by children's behavior, possibly due to feeling stigmatized; and (4) there are a series of stages through which parents progress before accepting their children "need" psychiatric medication, beginning with similar negative attitudes towards medication held by parents of children with no problems.

It seems medication does not provide parents with the relief its critics imagine, but instead creates added burdens associated with parents' need to continually monitor and change children's treatment, indicating that contrary to popular belief, parents do not use medication as a "quick fix" for unruly children.