Children are being prescribed mind-altering “chemical cosh” drugs for conditions such as shyness and mild social anxiety, behaviour experts have warned.
Young people are routinely being given medication to treat normal childhood conditions, it was claimed, despite fears over their long-term health.
The disclosure came as it emerged that the number of eight- to 13-year-olds on drugs such as Ritalin has soared seven-fold since 1997.
In many cases, pupils are being put on medication in an attempt to manage serious behaviour problems.
But Dave Traxson, a senior educational psychologist who works in schools in the West Midlands, warned that children were increasingly prescribed drugs for “normal” conditions.
“I feel very strongly that the time is right to challenge the growing practice of medicating our children for displaying behaviours and thought processes that until recently would have fallen within the normal range,” he said.
“In my region, there has been a huge growth of children being diagnosed with bipolar disorders, and a growth in the numbers given strong drugs.
“Doctors seem to be trying to shift more and more children into clinical treatment and this is very dangerous.”
Speaking to the Times Educational Supplement, Mr Traxson there was growing use of drugs to treat conditions such as shyness.
According to latest figures from the NHS, some 650,000 children aged eight to 13 are now on drugs such as Ritalin, which is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It represents a seven-fold increase on the 92,700 pupils put on drugs in 1997 and it compared with just 9,000 children given prescriptions in 1990.
But Mr Traxson claimed that medication was only helpful in around one-in-five cases.
He called for a urgent review into the use of drugs to treat medical condition.
Speaking after a British Psychological Society conference, he said teachers were often not consulted before doctors prescribed drugs.
The Government accused Labour of failing to promote alternatives to medication, which often contains amphetamines.
Paul Burstow, the Care Services Minister, said: “Medication has an important role to play in tackling mental health problems, but the last Labour government took far too long to make psychological therapies available, which are more effective than medication.”
Lucie Russell, director of campaigns at YoungMinds, the mental health charity, said: “Despite guidelines which say prescription drugs should not be the first line of treatment and should only be rarely used, we see a lot of children being given them because they have difficulty accessing therapeutic talking services.”