Why do our children need to self-medicate with junk food, energy drinks and smoking?

Why do our children need to self-medicate with junk food, energy drinks and smoking? Are adults poor role models?

Why do our children need to self-medicate with junk food, energy drinks and smoking?

In the UK, a survey presented by the BBC[i] highlighted that U.K 11 year olds were using smoking, energy drinks and junk food to deal with the stress they were feeling about taking the SATs exams, a national test to regulate educational standards that places pressure on the school for students to do well.

This brought a collective shock from parents and adults, generally raising the question as to why our young were so stressed. Essentially, the children are using the same coping mechanisms as their role models. If you include alcohol you have the main things adults self medicate with:

  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Junk Food
  • Work
  • Adrenalin sports
  • Gaming
  • Gambling
  • Energy Drinks

Children everywhere watch their role models self-medicating. Most adults would consider their choice of medication as normal and nothing to be concerned about.

If you go to your local service station it is literally advertising alcohol and junk food as the only supplies we need, often advertising wine, chocolate, crisps and beer all super cheap...

This normalisation of soft drinks, alcohol and junk food does have an impact on the choices our children make when faced with stress.

Serge Benhayon, a modern day philosopher and world teacher, has shared that often adults want the sugar hit from alcohol because they are so exhausted. Children also suffer exhaustion from stress and they too seek relief from a sugar hit. Are we, by our example, raising our children to be addicted to sugary junk food and therefore alcohol? We have so normalized sugar consumption that they are now hardwired to want stimulation and will feel uncomfortable being without it...

The step from the lolly treat after school every day to the first alcopop is but a small step being taken earlier and earlier.

The question we need to be asking is why then, and what is the uncomfortable feeling we are avoiding by eating or drinking that which does not serve our body to be in harmony? Why do we self-medicate? Almost everybody has his or her ‘go to’ substance or behaviour that helps to not feel something that is uncomfortable. Whether it’s drinking after a tough day, emotional eating after a fight with someone, or chocolate throughout the workday to keep away the exhaustion, it is all the same. This is where the why comes in. Asking why we are going to these behaviours or substances enables us to look at what is causing the self-destructive, self-medicating behaviour – which further enables us to address the problem.

We are not born feeling that life is hard, heavy and not joyful. It is how we have tried to fit into society and the world that has led us to feeling the struggle.

For so long we have done life the way the world sees fit – at the expense of our own body and what is true for us. Nearly all children learn to adapt in order to survive, fit in, gain love and/or approval and the degree of adaptation varies depending on their upbringing. Much of the adaptation results in patterns of behaviour based on defences and protection against feeling humiliated, hurt, ignored or misunderstood. The resulting behaviour patterns could vary across a spectrum from exceptionally compliant to frighteningly rebellious – and NONE OF THESE BEHAVIOURS ARE WHO THE CHILD WAS BORN TO BE. They are a result of the circumstances of their upbringing.

Of course it is difficult and time consuming to rear children in a family that meets them for who they innately are, respects them, confirms them, appreciates them and recognises their potential to live lovingly. It is even more difficult to do this if the world around us, our own childhood and the education system, does not reflect the potential glory in each child. We grow up with a deep, ever-present, underlying tension when we are living this adapted self that is based on patterns of protection and defence, knowing that we are not living the truth of our potential. It is this tension that drives us to choose foods and behaviours – either numbing or overstimulating us so that we can avoid the tension.

Fortunately we are constantly reminded of our own possible, and very real, harmony and divinity every day. This reminder is in the beauty of nature that surrounds us, our relationships with others, the natural cycles (sunset, sunrises and moon cycles) we are from, and the natural ability we have to simply and powerfully be ourselves. We can notice in children how they simply enjoy life – they find it easy and simple.

We as a society were not raised, nor are we raising our children, to remain in connection to this natural harmonious and glorious state. It is a cycle of dismissal and avoidance that we need to break.

If we, as role models, jump straight to the self-medication and consumption of ill supporting substances to dull whatever it is we are wanting to dull, then this is what our child sees as well, and this is how they will deal with the unease they feel in life. Why not instead equip yourself and children with the tools to master and navigate through life – truly understand and heal the hurts, issues and exhaustion that life can often bring. Talk about what’s going on, address the uncomfortableness and take care of your body... This way we are on the front foot, not at the mercy of the merry-go-round of feeling something we don’t want to and then going to a substance to best alleviate, which further perpetuates the dullness.

It is time to offer healthy, self-loving role models for our next generation: showing there is a choice in how we are with life, that in fact it doesn't need to be ‘dealt with’ or ‘managed’ with self-medication but can be lived with full vitality and joy despite the stress, and that is a choice. Whilst we normalize self-medication we are negating the very real choice we have to be in harmony with our bodies and lives; this doesn’t mean everything goes smoothly and we don’t sit tests. It simply means that how we are with the difficult situations is just as joyful as being with our friends or doing a job you really enjoy. The linked articles offer some information as to how to make these choices.

Whilst we manage life by self-medicating we miss out on the magic that lies within – our divinity and essence are all there waiting to be tapped into. What if our self-medicine was to love and care for ourselves so that we were confident and open to life and whatever situation we found ourselves in? Maybe then our children would be given something to look up to that is worth living for.


  • [i]


Filed under

AddictionRaising childrenRole modelsParentingChildren

  • By Vanessa McHardy, MA Integrative Child Psychotherapist

    Vanessa loves to help young people and adults to have an understanding of how they learn and how they can express all of themselves in all areas of their lives. True learning is at the heart of Vanessa’s life in all ways.

  • Photography: Matt Paul