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drug abuse and addiction as it affects young people today.
What to Do About Your Pot-Smoking Teen
Posted on August 30, 2009
By Suzanne Kane
With marijuana being one of the drugs most abused by teens, along with alcohol and nicotine, parents who discover their teens smoking pot may be overwhelmed and confused about what to do. Clinical psychologists and practitioners who treat substance abuse agree that communication, understanding the risks of smoking pot, and setting and enforcing family rules are all critical elements in helping parents deal with pot-smoking teens.
Establish Open Communication
How much trust and honesty exists between you and your teen? Do you have an open communication channel where you freely discuss concerns, problems, and solutions, as well as positive aspects of your teen’s life? If so, and the issue of pot smoking comes up, it is easier to deal with. If not, it’s important to set up and maintain good communication with your teen. In fact, it is critical to effective parental-teen relationships.
Questions to Ask if You Discover Your Teen Smokes Pot
Let’s say your teen openly admits to smoking pot and says he sees nothing wrong with it. This shows that your teen is honest. Acknowledge that and say something such as, “I don’t like what you just said, but I’m glad that you’re being honest.” This opens the door to discussion. Sometimes, however, when teens are openly defiant about smoking pot, it really means they are asking for some kind of parental limits to be imposed.
You may have accidentally discovered your teen’s stash of marijuana, or caught him smoking with his friends in the house. The truth is in the act. Now it’s time for discussion. An important note here is that you don’t ask all of the following questions at once. It will overwhelm your teen. Make a few initial points and say you want to think about it and talk again later. Finding the right time to talk to your teen may take some effort, as they have to be in the mood to talk. One opportunity may be when you and your teen are driving somewhere together.
When you are alone with your teen (and it should be one parent at a time, not ganged up at this point), first try to find out what it is about smoking pot that your teen is experiencing. Act as if your teen is the expert and you’re trying to learn more. It’s important that you don’t threaten or shout, as this will only alienate your teen and close the door to any further discussion. Ask questions such as:
• What do you feel like when you’re high?
• Is it easy to get pot?
• How much does marijuana cost?
• What kinds of marijuana are available now?
• I’ve read that marijuana is a lot stronger today than when I was growing up. Is that true?
• What do you get out of smoking pot? What are the benefits to you?
Determine Who Your Teen Smokes Pot With and Why
Parents need to know who their teens are smoking pot with and why. While smoking a joint with friends on the weekend still isn’t acceptable, experts say it is a less risky recreational form of pot smoking.
Who are these friends he smokes with? Is it the usual group of friends? If so, it may change your opinion of the friends you thought shared the values you and your teen have set up in the family. If it’s a new group, however, your teen may be getting influenced by a fringe group. Try to determine why the old group of friends is no longer around. Have they moved on? Are they no longer cool because they don’t smoke pot?
The most frequent abuse of marijuana is for self-medication. This is often true in teens with attention deficit disorder (ADD) who use pot to calm down. Similarly, teens who are depressed may smoke pot to stop the overwhelmingly negative feelings and thoughts. These teens are more likely to smoke alone and with others than teens who do not have ADD or depression. It’s important for parents to identify the underlying problem, if any, and get help to address that problem.
Determine How Often, How Much, and Under What Circumstances
Ask your teen how often he smokes pot, how much, when, and where. This is a discussion point you can make if your teen says, “I’m not a druggie always getting high. I only smoke now and then.” But even if your teen doesn’t say these exact words, there will be some disclaimer about usage. Use that as your starting point to get further information. You might ask, “When is it not good to smoke pot? Can you tell the difference?” This will clarify your teen’s ability to acknowledge that there are risks of abuse with smoking pot. Chronic use, defined as daily pot smoking for a month or longer, will typically cause the user to become depressed and experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop.
Pot smoking has other negative impacts that parents can see and be on the lookout for. Teens who habitually smoke pot become apathetic—“I don’t care. Why should I worry or get involved?” They also procrastinate, put things off, or don’t care about things that are usually important to them. The clues here are not doing homework, getting poor grades, and losing interest in after-school activities, sports, or other events.
After the Facts are In
Once the reasons and usage patterns are known, parents need to express displeasure with their teen’s pot-smoking behavior. First, it’s illegal. Your teen needs to know he could be arrested, which will stay on his record for years. Secondly, many employers now routinely drug test applicants and employees. Marijuana traces remain in the system for about a month, so your teen may not be able to get a job. He could also get fired from a part-time job due to a positive drug screen. Thirdly, make it very clear that you have a zero-tolerance rule: You won’t allow an illegal substance in your home.
Be calm, but firm—no crying, hysterics, or unreasonable threats. Tell your teen you don’t approve and won’t condone pot smoking. Make sure he understands that while you can’t control his behavior, there are consequences for breaking the rules.
Enforcing the Rules
If your teen breaks the rule and brings pot into the home, he needs to understand that there’ll be no more privacy. Instead, there will be periodic room searches as well as searches of his backpack, car, etc.
You might insist on mandatory adult supervision, telling your teen that he cannot be home alone unsupervised for a period of time. You may also impose a curfew. After your teen successfully complies with tasks (at home and at school) at least 75 percent of the time, you may lift or extend the curfew or increase the amount of time he can be left alone without close supervision. But you still need to monitor your teen’s actions and friends.
If your teen has a driver’s license, make sure he knows the same rules for drinking and driving apply to smoking marijuana and driving, and that research shows that pot and alcohol both delay reaction times and raise accident risks.
Parents’ main concern is that pot may lead to more serious drugs. While this is not generally true for all teens, the risk is there, as marijuana is often referred to as a gateway drug. But there is significant potential for teens to become addicted psychologically. They may smoke pot because they feel they need to reduce stress or to fit in with their peers. Look for signs that casual pot use has become abuse, such as your teen’s behavior and personality changes. If you believe there’s serious addiction, take stronger steps. You may need to involve the police, insist on routine drug testing, and mandate individual and family counseling with a substance abuse specialist.
Help Teens Earn Your Trust
Your teen needs to develop the psychological ability to make good decisions. Keep an open line of communication with your teen based on accurate information, establishment of family values and rules, and enforcement. Encourage your teen to make the proper choices. Praise your teen for their efforts—and success—at good behavior.
In the end, with diligence, love, and good communication, parents can be assured they’ve done all they can to help their teens quit smoking pot. In fact, the demonstration of your teen’s newfound ability to make the right choices will be one of the most important life lessons they learn.