I can’t imagine a worse parental nightmare: your child, who you love so dearly, grows up and becomes an addict.

That nightmare has come true for millions of parents around the world lately, with the global opioid epidemic expanding exponentially. This nightmare often ends tragically, too, when a son or daughter overdoses and dies as a result of their addiction.

Here are a few sobering statistics to consider from the U.S. National Institute of Drug Abuse:

Prescription opioid abuse is not only costly in economic terms (it has been estimated that the nonmedical use of opioid pain relievers costs insurance companies up to $72.5 billion annually in health-care costs) but may also be partly responsible for the steady upward trend in poisoning mortality. In 2010, there were 13,652 unintentional deaths from opioid pain reliever (82.8 percent of the 16,490 unintentional deaths from all prescription drugs), and there was a five-fold increase in treatment admissions for prescription pain relievers between 2001 and 2011 (from 35,648 to 180,708, respectively). In the same decade, there was a tripling of the prevalence of positive opioid tests among drivers who died within one hour of a crash. – America’s Addiction to Opioids: Heroin and Prescription Drug Abuse, The National Institute for Drug Abuse, May 14, 2014.

What can parents do, especially in early childhood, to protect their children from the terrible consequences of drug use, drug abuse and drug addiction?

Maia Szalavitz, the author of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction, has an interestingly spiritual conclusion and recommendation on that issue. She says that all addictions:

… really involve the same fundamental problem: a difficulty with self-regulation. This may appear predominantly as an inability to inhibit strong impulses, it may be largely an impairment in modulating negative emotions like anxiety, or it may have elements of both. In any case, difficulties with self-regulation lay the groundwork for learning addiction and for creating a condition that is hard to understand. The brain regions that allow self-regulation need experience and practice in order to develop. If that experience is aberrant or if those brain regions are wired unusually, they may not learn to work properly. – Scientific American, May 5, 2016.

So here’s the question: are you training your children to self-regulate? Are you giving them enough experience and practice to develop those important self-regulatory brain regions?

If you’re not sure, here are a few suggestions from the Baha’i teachings:

1. Teach children about God. Regardless of your religion or lack of one, your children can benefit from knowing they were created in the image of a divine Creator—noble, good and kind. If they want to reject that premise later as adults, they can, but children who grow up believing that a beneficent, loving God watches over them also learn to self-inhibit and refrain from indulging their lower instincts as often:

… from the very beginning, the children must receive divine education and must continually be reminded to remember their God. Let the love of God pervade their inmost being, commingled with their mother’s milk. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 126.

2. Emphasize character development. When you raise your children, praise them when you see them acting on their noblest, most spiritual inner character traits. When they share, when they’re kind to others, when they altruistically do things for others, strive to make those positive spiritual traits a permanent part of their self-identities:

Ye should consider the question of goodly character as of the first importance. It is incumbent upon every father and mother to counsel their children over a long period, and guide them unto those things which lead to everlasting honour. – Ibid., p. 133.

Training in morals and good conduct is far more important than book learning. A child that is cleanly, agreeable, of good character, well-behaved — even though he be ignorant — is preferable to a child that is rude, unwashed, ill-natured, and yet becoming deeply versed in all the sciences and arts. The reason for this is that the child who conducts himself well, even though he be ignorant, is of benefit to others, while an ill-natured, ill-behaved child is corrupted and harmful to others, even though he be learned. If, however, the child be trained to be both learned and good, the result is light upon light. – Ibid., pp. 135-136.

3. Set high ideals and goals. For the maximum self-regulatory effect in children, simply give them high goals and ideals—and them let them struggle to achieve those goals. Don’t hover, don’t do school assignments for them, and don’t over-protect. Instead, allow them to develop a sense of accomplishment and achievement themselves. Create an environment of order and discipline along with those high ideals, and challenge your children to achieve greatness:

Children are even as a branch that is fresh and green; they will grow up in whatever way ye train them. Take the utmost care to give them high ideals and goals, so that once they come of age, they will cast their beams like brilliant candles on the world, and will not be defiled by lusts and passions in the way of animals, heedless and unaware, but instead will set their hearts on achieving everlasting honour and acquiring all the excellences of humankind. – Ibid., p. 135.

All of these suggestions from the Baha’i teachings may initially seem far removed from guarding against the risk of addiction in the teenage and early adult years—but they will help sprout and strengthen the skills children need for that crucial initial decision they’ll have to make when a peer offers them their first high. Today most children will face that test early and often, and those with strong, self-regulating inner characters will be the ones most likely to pass it. Here’s a Baha’i prayer for those children:

O Divine Providence! Bestow Thou in all things purity and cleanliness upon the people of Baha. Grant that they be freed from all defilement, and released from all addictions. Save them from committing any repugnant act, unbind them from the chains of every evil habit, that they may live pure and free, wholesome and cleanly, worthy to serve at Thy Sacred Threshold and fit to be related to their Lord. Deliver them from intoxicating drinks and tobacco, save them, rescue them, from this opium that bringeth on madness, suffer them to enjoy the sweet savours of holiness, that they may drink deep of the mystic cup of heavenly love and know the rapture of being drawn ever closer unto the Realm of the All-Glorious. – Ibid., p. 148.

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

2 Comments

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  • Jul 20, 2017
    I have passed this on to many. Helpful and captures the essence of child rearing very effectively and clearly. Thanks!
  • Daun Miller
    Jul 19, 2017
    David, I enjoy your articles very much, especially this one. I am originally from Ohio where drugs are now rampant. It is heartbreaking to see what has happened to so many good people who are now addicted to drugs. Your suggestions to parents are spot-on. I wrote Children of the Kingdom: A Baha'i Approach to Spiritual Parenting so that parents would know how to protect their children and nurture them. Spiritual training makes a difference. It really does.