Mukta Puntambekar, project director, Muktangan de-addiction centre. (Illustration: Shrikrishna Patkar)(HT/PHOTO)
Mukta Puntambekar, project director, Muktangan de-addiction centre. (Illustration: Shrikrishna Patkar)(HT/PHOTO)

Pune on my mind: Mukta Puntambekar shares ways to safeguard children from addictions

Today, the types of addictions observed in children are marijuana/cannabis, meth, alcohol, nicotine, and, among homeless children, whitener inhalation
Hindustan Times, Pune | By HT Correspondent
UPDATED ON JUL 01, 2019 02:45 PM IST

To safeguard children from addictions, we have to first accept and be open about the subject of addictions. We live in a society where sex and addictions, are still considered taboo. So, if a child is curious about drugs, and approaches his/ her parents, the reaction and response that s/he gets is of utmost importance. This is why it is necessary for parents to be open to the idea of discussion and communication at home.

Today, the types of addictions observed in children are marijuana/cannabis, meth, alcohol, nicotine, and, among homeless children, whitener inhalation.

The rise in addictions among children has many reasons: the first one being social acceptance. Previously, people who would smoke and drink were frowned upon. However, now drinking and smoking is socially accepted and even encouraged. So you have children observing their parents doing so at a very young age. We also see that people who don’t smoke or drink are seen as “socially backward” and made fun of. They are often persuaded to take just a sip or a drag.

When a child is exposed to such behaviour, s/he is going to consider it normal. Hence, children take to experimenting which could later lead to addiction. Peer groups also play an important role as children tend to follow patterns and ideas of their friends.

Another reason for the rise in addictions is misconnection in society. People think that consuming such substances- be it drugs, tobacco or alcohol- will reduce their stress and give them a ‘high’. The fact is, that is just temporary. You may tend to feel happy in the initial stages and as you move on, the tolerance increases. Then you need to increase the quantity of the substances you consume. This is a vicious circle.

Children tend to believe from friends that consumption of these substances is a good for stress management. Peers often discuss how smoking or taking drugs makes them feel better. Initially, one may feel that they free you from your problems, but in the long run you are likely to be trapped in a bigger problem.

We had the case of a young boy from a rural area who had come to Pune for higher education. He had trouble speaking in English and suffered from an inferiority complex. His friends suggested alcohol to overcome this fear. But, it backfired as he would make many mistakes, speak wrong English and be laughed at. So, alcohol and drugs are not a solution to any problem.

How do we safeguard our children from such addictions? Well, the responsibility lies with everybody: schools, parents, the NGOs, law enforcement agencies and the media. All of them have an equal role in saving our future generations.

Schools should regularly conduct awareness programmes to discuss the ill-effects of drugs and addictions. They should offer a variety of positive activities for children and create diversions with sports and other events.

Parents should be good role models. I have seen parents, who drink and smoke and then come up to me asking us to counsel their children against smoking and drinking. You have to lead by example. Parents need to have positive communication with their kids. They need to discuss the repercussions of drug addictions openly with their children and leave no scope for any intrigue in the child’s mind. They must answer all the questions put forth by their children.

At Muktangan rehabilitation centre, we have a programme called ‘Let’s talk about drugs’, which we conduct in schools.

If children don’t get their questions answered by their parents or school teachers, then they will get their answers from their peers with high chances of being misguided.

The media plays a pivotal role here. If we are going to glamourise addiction, then they will fall for it. Also, public interest commercials and advertisements need to be made well. I don’t believe in the ones we see in the theatres today. I have seen children laugh and joke about these commercials. The message is being completely misinterpreted. When it comes to law and enforcement, the authorities need to take all cases of drugs and addictions seriously, thus setting a strong example.

When a child needs to undergo treatment for drug addiction, parental acceptance of the reality staring them in the face is of prime importance. Parents first tend to be in denial mode, and later they get aggressive and angry.

The best way to deal with situations such as these, is to be calm and approach an expert. Initially, children refuse to accept that they have any addiction. It is therefore important to take the child into confidence and convince them how grave the situation is.

Never indulge in the blame game here.

My Earliest Memories of Pune

I was born and brought up in Pune and I am very proud of my city. I feel extremely safe and secure here, no matter what the time. I never hesitate to travel at any hour of the day. I love the green hills surrounding us. I like spending Sundays on these hills and forts such as Sinhgad.

One Change That I Want To See:

Traffic. I wish I could have the pleasure of cycling around the city like in the past. When we were growing up, we would cycle to school. Today, I am so scared to let my children do the same. I really hope we can turn around the traffic situation in the city.

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