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In debates over diagnoses of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and use of the drug Ritalin among the American school age population, discussion often centers around who is to blame for rising diagnoses and increasing use of Ritalin. Parents have come under particular scrutiny by critics who associate ADHD behaviors in children with poor parenting and view Ritalin as a "quick-fix" for socially situated problems. Biologically oriented researchers of ADHD, on the other hand have posited organically based dysfunction as the cause of ADHD behaviors. This paper explores the problem of blame in relation to ADHD diagnoses and Ritalin use from the perspective of mothers of boys with ADHD. Qualitative interviews with mothers suggest that medicalization of problematic behaviors in young boys includes an inherent narrative of blame transformation; this transformation can be expressed as a binarism: mother-blame-brain-blame. The first two sections of the paper document mothers' experiences of blame for their sons' symptomatic behaviors against the background of a cultural mothering ideology. The third section considers the promise of absolution from mother-blame inherent in the transformative binary structure. I argue that medicalization of boys' problem behaviors supports and reconstitutes the potential for mother-blame and does little to pierce oppressive cultural mothering ideals.

Original publication




Journal article


Soc Sci Med

Publication Date





1193 - 1205


Adaptation, Psychological, Anger, Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity, Central Nervous System Stimulants, Child, Culture, Female, Guilt, Humans, Male, Methylphenidate, Mothers, Parenting, Prejudice, Spouses, United States