NOTE: This article was written to professionals working with children but it is recommend reading for all parents.
As adults working with children, we play a valuable role in protecting and preparing them for the many destructive forces they will face in the world. In a society where many addicting substances and experiences are present, we have a unique opportunity to safeguard children from the inside out.
To begin, let’s look at the foundation of addiction. We are all born with the need for human connection. When a secure connection or “attachment” to a caregiver is not developed, a person is more susceptible to addiction. Flores (2004), states it this way: “No one ever escapes their need for satisfying relationships, and the degree to which we are unable to form healthy interpersonal intimacy determines the degree to which we are vulnerable to substitute [addiction] for human closeness” (p. 53). Thus, the most powerful antidote to addiction is the formation of a secure attachment with a child.
Secure attachment can be developed in a child through a caregiver’s “attunement” to them. This means that adults see, acknowledge, and respond to children’s emotions. According to Thompson (2010), “parents of securely attached children are emotionally attuned, perceptive, and responsive to their needs” (p. 118-119). Responding to children in this manner teaches them that their feelings are worthwhile and that people are trustworthy.
On the other hand, when caregivers are non-responsive, reactive, shaming, or abusive when children express emotion, attachment is weakened. Such responses teach children to dismiss their feelings and disconnect from others. When people are no longer a viable source of comfort, children are vulnerable to seeking unhealthy self-soothing outside of relationships (i.e. pornography, drugs, etc).
If someone develops an insecure attachment style in early life, the good news is that change is possible. “Earned secure attachment” can occur through the experience of affirming interactions with healthy individuals (Thompson, 2010). As people of influence in children’s lives, we have a profound opportunity to provide “attunement”, love, and care for children. This strengthens their ability to connect with people, which is a powerful preventative measure against future addictions. While previous circumstances may have taught them not to rely on others, we can be exceptions, showing them that people can be supportive emotional resources. This increases the future possibility that they will go to people for comfort in the future, rather than addictive substances or experiences.
All caring adults play key roles in children’s development. May we never underestimate our influence in the lives of little ones, whether it is those we work with, or the ones we come home to at the end of the day.
Flores, P. J. (2004). Addiction as an attachment disorder. Lanham: Jason Aronson
Frye, T. (2010). Intimacy Disorder and Sexual Addiction on Youtube
Thompson, C. (2010). Anatomy of the soul: Surprising connections between
neuroscience and spiritual practices that can transform your life and relationships. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.
**** YouthSTAR is available to help adolescents struggling with sexually addictive behavior. For more information, call us at (559) 323-8484 or check out our site: