Addictions and What To Do

Device addiction or internet addiction is rather rampant nowadays. I have lost count of the number of parents who have approached me to help their children overcome this problem.

To overcome any problem, the first thing we need to understand is why it is happening and how it is happening. Then and only then can we effectively solve the problem.

So let us look at addiction itself. What is it? What is its root cause? And more importantly, what can we do to help our children (and ourselves) overcome addictions?

What is Addiction?

There are different types of addiction. There is addiction to substances like drugs, alcohol, nicotine etc. And there is behavioural addiction like gambling, sex, gaming, and internet addiction.

While they differ in type, the end result is the same. Indulging in the addiction triggers pleasure. It helps the addicts forget about their troubles and woes. Even if it kills them, they would rather indulge in the pleasure than face their pain.

Introducing Rat Cages With Drugs

In the early days of research into addiction, researchers placed individual rats into an empty cage with nothing except 2 sources of drinks. One was plain water and the other was water infused with heroin.

Over time, the rats would all get addicted to the heroin infused water and die of overdose. The researchers concluded that the presence of drugs caused addiction.

The research does lend itself to that conclusion. But is that really the case?  There are drugs around.  But not EVERYONE is an addict. Cigarettes and alcohol are easily accessible, yet not everyone is an addict. There are casinos around too, but not everyone gambles or is addicted to it. So what is the missing piece?

Introducing the Rat Park

In the later 1970s and early 1980s, a Canadian researcher, Bruce Alexander, ran a different experiment. He created a “Rat Park”. The Rat Park differed from the original Rat Cage in three ways.

Firstly, it was 200 times bigger than the individual rat cages in previous experiments.

Secondly, the Rat Park had 20 rats of both genders in it, unlike the old rat cages that contained one solitary rat each.

Thirdly, instead of an empty cage except for the two bottles of water, the Rat Park was filled with Hamster wheels and multi-colored balls for the rats to play with. It was also stocked with plenty of tasty food to eat, and spaces for mating and raising litters.

The constant between the old Rat Cage experiments and the Rat Park was they both offered one bottle of drinking water and one bottle of heroin infused water.

Bruce found that the rats in his Rat Park ignored the heroin. They were much more interested in typical communal rat activities such as playing, fighting, eating, and mating. Even rats which had become addicted to the heroin water when they were in the Rat Cage experiment left the tainted water alone once they were introduced to the Rat Park. Essentially, with a little bit of social stimulation and connection, addiction disappeared.

So what can we learn from this famous “Rat Park” experiment?

What IS the Root Cause of Addiction?

When someone has an addiction to something, be it substance addiction, or internet addiction, or behavioural addiction, the problem is not with whatever they are addicted to. The problem lies with the “cage” that these people are in. Is their cage stimulating enough, fun enough, with sufficient opportunities for meaningful relationships and connection?

Addiction is triggered by the craving for pleasure. Indulging in it helps the addicts forget about their troubles and woes. Understanding that is the first step to helping addicts overcome their addiction.

Many people think that when the addict recovers, he becomes sober. But being sober does not help him forget about his troubles and woes. If anything, it makes him more keenly aware of the challenges he faces. He will very quickly suffer a relapse and go back to the addiction.

The opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is CONNECTION. Why connection?

Well, the answer is simple. If we look at the residents of Rat Park, they have fun. They have activities to do. They have a social life. Life is exciting and interesting. They are connected to being alive. They are connected to living.

But the residents of Rat Cage? They are isolated with nothing to do. Life is boring, a drudgery.  Hence, they need something, anything, to spruce up their lives.

Hence, addiction is the LACK OF CONNECTION.

What Can We Do As Parents?

Instead of simply confiscating the source of addiction which essentially does nothing to fill the void of the addicts, it will be more productive and effective if we spruce up their “cages”, the lives that they live.

I mean if we look at our children nowadays, how are their lives like? How big are their cages? How much freedom do they have? Do they have time for socialisation, for play?

Is It As Simple As That?

Yes and no.

Why yes? Sprucing up the cages is but the first step. When our children feel they have some control of their lives, that there is meaning in their lives, their likelihood of being addicted to anything will reduce drastically.

BUT it is MORE than just that. We will need to understand the development of children, especially our teens, as well as understand how to establish connection and trust with them so we are better able to guide them.  Let us face it.  How many of our children “really” listen to us? To get them to hear us out and do as we say, we really need to strengthen our connection with them.

Want to Know More?

I hope you have found this article useful.

If cyber/device addiction is something your children are struggling with, or if you are concerned about keeping your children safe from cyber dangers, you will want to check out this 2-hour Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety Seminar. I will sharing more about addiction and how to keep our children safe on the internet.

TOPIC:          Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety
SPEAKER :    Vivian Kwek
VENUE :       2 Venture Drive VISION EXCHANGE #21-01 S608526
DATE :         Saturday Nov 3, 2018
TIME :         11AM-1PM 

After the 2-hour workshop, you will

  • Understand why children are addicted to the internet/their devices;
  • Know what you can do to address that addiction;
  • Learn how to keep children safe from dangers online, eg: bullying, grooming, objectionable content etc;
  • Learn how to encourage children to share what happens in their cyberworld with you so that they can have a safer cyber experience;
  • Have your questions on keeping your children safe on the internet addressed; and
  • Create a Cyber Safety Plan for your family.


Here’s what other parents have said about Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety Seminar:

“I have attended several seminars and workshops on cyber safety previously. But this is the first one that explains why my child behaves the way she does. Now that I understand why she is addicted to her device and the challenges she faces, I know how to help her overcome it. Thank you so much for the insight.”

“This is a really beneficial session and should be shared with more parents.”

“Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety opened up a lot of questions on our previous assumptions.”


To register, click on this link: Decoding Your Child for Cyber Safety

See you on 3 Nov 2018!


Happy Parenting!



To Be Or Not To Be?

My 5-year-old left her gym class with tears in her eyes.  “I cried two times today,” she said.  When I asked her why, she said it was because her friends decided they did not want to be her friends anymore. One of them started calling her names and singing mean songs about her.  Even though she told the person the song wasn’t nice and asked her to stop, that person kept singing it.

“At first I tried to ignore her.  But she kept singing it over and over until I couldn’t take it anymore.  I got so angry.  So I cried,” my little one elaborated.

I did my best to comfort her. Little ones changing their minds about who they want to be friends with is common. One day you are BFFs, the next, they turn their backs on you.  And a few days later, you are BFFs again.  And the cycle repeats itself ever so often.

Sometimes it happens more often with certain people who use their friendship as emotional blackmail.  It happens to adults too.  I reminded her to not do that to any of her friends because they would be hurt, as she was hurt now.

I asked if she had done anything that might have hurt her friends, like laughed at them when they made a mistake, or speak rudely to them.

“No, mom. Today is lesson three and they just suddenly say they don’t want to be my friends.  But in lesson one and lesson two, they were my friends. I don’t know why,” she replied.

To divert her attention, I asked her what she had done at gym class that day and she said she got to lead in the warm up exercise.  Lead?  She was only recently promoted to the higher level class.  Yet her instructor had asked her to lead the entire class at the start of her third session when there were others who had been there for at least three months or more?

Hmmm… A different reason for her friends turning on her began to surface.

Jealousy At Play?

I might have over-read the situation. Maybe it’s just childishness, but I felt the urge to say something about it to my girl.

So I explained that there was a possibility that her friends who turned their backs on her might have been jealous that she was selected to lead the class.  That sometimes, people do not like to be friends with people who are better than them because it makes them feel inferior.

“But why?” asked my little one.  She continued, “We can learn from 3 different kinds of people.  We can learn from our teachers. We can learn from our parents. And we can learn from our friends. If I am good, and they are my friends, they will become good too,” she reasoned.

“Indeed we can,” I assured her.  “I love hanging out with people smarter and more capable than I am,” I told her.

“Me too!” she replied.

To Be Or Not To Be?

I brought her back to the predicament that she was in.  I told her I was not sure if jealousy was why her friends decided not to be her friends anymore.  But what would she do if indeed her friends rejected her because they were jealous of her being more capable? Would she purposely make more mistakes so she appeared less capable?  Would she become weaker so they would be her friends again?

“Would you stop being your awesome self to keep your friends?” I asked. She looked confused.

So I asked her instead, “Do you want to be loved for who you are?”  She nodded.

“Great! Then continue being your awesome self.  And you will find friends who like the awesome you, who love you for who you are, and who will feel proud to see you do well.  As for people who stop being your friends because you are stronger than them, it is their loss that they decide to stop being friends with you.”

My little one’s eyes lit up.  “That makes a lot of sense, mom. Thanks!” And she gave me a hug.

Why Did I Do This?

Some people may say I over-interpreted the situation with her gym mates.  Maybe I did.  Maybe it’s just childish frivolity and there’s no jealousy whatsoever.

Regardless, I saw this gym event as a good teaching opportunity for my little one (and her older siblings when I shared the conversation with them).

I feel our children need to have the inner fortitude to learn they do not need to “dumb down” to earn the love of anyone.  I want my children to know that they are awesome and feel confident about themselves.  I want them to find friends who love them for who they are.

No, I am not asking my little one to be careless about keeping friends. Of course if now she had lost friends because she was mean or hurtful, the lesson would have been totally different.  It would have been about her being kinder, gentler and more loving because we can always be better versions of ourselves even though our family may continue loving us with our warts and all.

But if she is being rejected for her strengths, I would ask her to be bold in shining and continue being who she is.  I want her to learn that if she is shunned for her strengths, it is not her loss but the loss of those who shunned her. I want her to know she will find people who will love her strengths and flock to her. Because, indeed, birds of a feather flock together. I would much prefer she “flocks” with those who are open to learning,

Why? Because this is not simply about her being authentic and true to herself.  The more important lesson here lies in the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you.  AND do not do unto others as you would not want others to do unto you.”

In other words, I want her to also learn not to feel jealous or bitter about those who are stronger and better than she, but to be inspired, to want to learn, and to befriend such people.

For that, to me, is a growth mindset. And that is the key to success.


Happy Parenting!