– by Ninky Shuenyane

Humans have an inherent desire to belong and be an important part of something greater than themselves. The desire to belong is the need to give and receive affection from others. Without belonging, one cannot identify themselves clearly, thus having difficulties communicating with and relating to others.

Being accepted by the wrong crowd
Both rejection and acceptance are psychologically powerful events. Lack of sense of belonging breeds feelings of loneliness, being unwanted and unable to trust. It thus becomes very easy for drug dealers, unethical business people and cult recruiters to exploit such people’s (especially adolescents) strong need to belong, by enticing them with group activity. 

Substance abuse in adolescents
Many young people struggle with belonging, hide feelings of depression, loneliness, sadness or anxiety. They start to use drugs/alcohol to manage emotional pain. They are provided with a sense of closeness (though drug-induced), that takes away that sense of separateness and therefore it becomes easy to slip into the wrong crowd. Substances are a temporary fix because eventually this solution becomes a problem that eats away at the infrastructure of life as the adolescent slowly slips away from “normal,” to becoming someone they also no longer recognise. Drug abuse is an epidemic that spreads regardless of race, economic status, religion and family boundaries.

It all starts in the family
Firstly, parents need information about the substances of abuse that are currently prevalent in their community. Secondly, getting familiar with warning signs should a substance use problem be developing in the home. Finally, parents must be prepared to take long-term preventive measures and to respond appropriately if any of these substance should breach the family’s defences. According to the UNDCP/ WHO Global Initiative on Primary Prevention of Substance Abuse, the goals of primary prevention should be to: 1. Target young people before they start using substances 2. Discourage use in those who are already experimenting or using. 

Parents as leaders
Parents are teachers and guides who give children moral values and enhance a sense of responsibility by rules and setting limits. They need to lay foundations to help the child grow into maturity in Christ to make positive contribution to the world. Parenting is about ensuring children feel they belong to a group called the family wherein they are valued, can contribute, are cared for and are an important member. Effective parenting is about:

  • Encouraging self-discovery, natural abilities and having confidence in children so they believe in themselves.
  • Recognising effort, improvement and accomplishment.
  • Value their uniqueness; focus on contributions they make in the family.
  • Highlight their spiritual gifts. Encourage their being kind to others, helpful, merciful, sharing, giving, loving others.
  • Having frequent family meetings provides a sense of belonging and feeling significant. Meetings can be used to set family rules, encourage what works well, generate solutions to challenges.
  • Reinforce their spiritual identity: Children develop confidence knowing that they are loved by God, no matter what. This builds their inner strength, builds a wall of protection and that they should carry on to reach their goals.
  • Help your child find alternative groups to belong to, eg. sports, art etc. Getting your child involved in the community boosts their confidence and self-esteem, while using their skills and building new ones.

Help your child and pray for them
Kids with positive self-esteem develop a healthy sense of belonging. They value their own opinions and are not easy to influence, thus less likely to be involved in substances use or sexual activities.

Article from JOY! Magazine.

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