Maladjusted children tend to use violence as a natural form of expression and thus are difficult to integrate into many social settings. Managing them, even within specialized institutions, raises challenges of the appropriate level of constraint and sanction.
Adults now appear to find exerting authority over children, including their own, extraordinarily problematic. Both parents and institutional staff have difficulty preventing wayward adolescents from engaging in unsuitable activities. Part of that difficulty arises from the perception that children's autonomy must be respected at all costs. As a result they are treated as adults prematurely. The confusion over appropriate levels of constraint arises from the fundamental misapprehension that to respect their rights it is necessary to forget that children are children.
In the USA in 1971, 3% of USA school children were hyperactive according to the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare. In 1974, official estimates put the number at 15%. In 1978, 1.7%-1.8% of school children in the USA were receiving drugs to control 'hyperactivity'. In the UK, there were 600 'maladjusted' children in 1950; 8,000 'maladjusted' children in 1966; 20,000 'maladjusted' children in 1976; and in 1978, 16,000 to 18,000 school children were receiving drugs to control 'hyperactivity'.
Today's mental welfare activities have focused increasingly on children considered to be hyperactive or maladjusted. They have turned the raising of children into a technical problem that needs the constant monitoring of experts. When the parents fail to fulfil their role in the manner considered appropriate, then the experts are prepared to 'intervene' as surrogate parents. This intervention is sometimes blatantly repressive; there are many cases of children 'in care' being massively drugged to quell their protests. In the 1960s, it was suggested that hyperactivity stems from otherwise undetectable 'minimal brain damage', and that drugs can put it right. Within a few years, about a million American children were living under permanent sedation to control their 'hyperactivity'.