Addiction in children has been a subject that has triggered discourse from varying quarters due to its highly sensitive nature. From the home-front, schools, other child-socialization centers including the healthcare system, addiction in children has become an issue of grave concern. However, it has been noted that while some stakeholders approach the issue of addiction in children with the objective to stymie it, others view addiction in children as a source of wealth. This has resulted in the proliferation of addictive materials ranging from food, drugs and entertainment, among others. With different addictive options available to children, there is the fear that overcoming one might not necessarily make a child less vulnerable to others.
Addiction is many times viewed by people to be the excessive and abusive use of substances, especially drugs. Nevertheless, addiction is a BEHAVIOUR that is COMPULSIVE, caused by a desire for pleasure which leads to an uncontrollable connection to the source of that pleasure. This definitely draws the line between drug abuse and addiction, especially since the subject of addiction goes beyond drugs and a person abusing drugs may not necessarily be addicted to those drugs. Addiction in children has been traced to seemingly harmless things like computer games, texting on phones, cartoons on television, music or food. Other times, it has been traced to dangerous and unhealthy things such as drugs, pornography, violence or sex. The pleasure that children get from any form of addiction can be either physical or psychological and when this pleasure is derived, it is said that that such children are “high”. Intriguingly, it is this “high” that drives deeper addictive patterns in children because it allows them operate in their fantasies, uninhibited and untamed.
Addiction in children usually has consequences that cut across societal fabric. Not only does it affect the children in question, it also negatively impacts the family, school system and the health system. Children who are addicts do not learn well at school, divert and waste their resources on the addiction, have health problems inclusive of mental challenges, have unwanted pregnancies, have sexually transmitted diseases or may be at risk of self-inflicted harm. Families with child-addicts will bear extra financial burden of funding the child’s addiction, may not recoup any gain on educational investments made on behalf of the children, will incur extra health-care cost and may have family relationships strained. Health care systems will also bear the brunt by allocating already limited resources to countering increasing rates of child morbidity and mortality, due to addiction. Societies with child-addicts will have higher numbers of delinquents and security challenges.
Addiction should never be tolerated as it is an illness and a societal bane. Responses to addiction in children must be relevant, decisive and prioritized by every stakeholder as one addicted child can birth several other child-addicts, once interaction is established among them. Besides, children might not be able to muster enough commitment to overcome addiction on their own, considering its plethora sources. Nevertheless, identifying addictive symptoms in children is a sure way to help child-addicts. Observing changes in a child’s breath; body odor; behaviour; health; school grades; study habits; eating habits and even the child’s friends can give indicators of either growing or long-term addictions.
Dealing with addiction in children should start from home and school. Parents, care-givers and teachers should not be judgmental in their approach to child-addicts. Rather, they should investigate the reasons for the addiction and deal with them swiftly alongside, opening lines of communication among concerned parties. While it is not acceptable to indulge addictive habits in children, it is also not something out of the ordinary to see children being addicted to something new, every now and then. The innate nature of children which includes friendliness, being dare-devils, experimenters, being impulsive and not being resilient enough, broadly encompasses the characteristics of people who can be vulnerable to addiction. Other reasons usually highlighted for addiction in children are heredity; distressing situations or trauma; ostracism; taking up grown-up’s responsibilities as a child; inhabiting disorderly environments; lacking any serious religious or moral guidance; family conflicts; limited parental guidance or poor relationships between parents and children, alongside children having too much free, un-accountable or play time. Identifying underlying causes can address the problem of addiction in a timely and cost-effective manner.
Problems of addiction in children should be handled using a multi-faceted approach. The home and school of the child-addict should be investigated and changes made where necessary. Healthy religious teachings and mentorship can boost a child’s commitment to beat addiction. Religious teachings that espouse love and respect (for self and others) and rewards for positive change should be more emphasized for child-addicts. Mentors, who can be teachers, should be informed, dedicated and patient with the child-addicts entrusted to them. Schools should equally enforce a zero-tolerance for child abuse from any of its quarters and also inform parents of its responsibility to report any child abuse suffered by children in their homes, once it comes to the school’s knowledge. Child abuse is a strong trigger for addiction in children.
Health-care interventions can also provide remedies for addictive behaviours in children. More sensitization about addiction should be done by health care providers. Parents and caregivers should be able to know that just a simple visit, to the hospital can greatly assist them in dealing with addiction in children. Parents and caregivers should be free to ask questions concerning any intervention or treatment being offered to help their children. Parents should be able to enquire about the options and affordability of the treatment programs, their roles in the treatment programs, the duration of the treatment programs and the likelihood of relapse during or after the treatment program.
A common saying that “prevention is better than cure” holds true, when dealing with addiction in children. More awareness needs to be created especially in schools and religious centers about addiction in children. In fact, the earlier, the better. Also, platforms like the Parent-Teachers’ Association meetings can also be considered as it will engender deeper discussions among parents and teachers alongside other stakeholders, on the topic.
Shield of Innocence Initiative,
Oyo State, Nigeria.