Nothing could be more frustrating or disheartening than trying to hold a conversation with your child, only to receive grunts or sarcastic smirks in response. Nearly every parent must deal with the insecurities that accompany an uncommunicative child, especially a boy–Is he OK?
Am I saying the right things? Should I try talking to his friends? Should I just leave him alone??
If you’re concerned that your high-school-aged child is using recreational drugs such as marijuana, here are some things to consider.
Bear in mind, these are not meant as ways to justify smoking grass, but merely to illustrate the mindset of the teenager approaching weed: 1)
It is not dangerous: not only can you not overdose, but the effects which make drinking alcohol so dangerous (impaired judgment, slowed reaction time, dead brain cells, liver failure) are little more than negligible with marijuana; 2)
Marijuana makes kids more likely to hang out in the safety and comfort of home, rather than driving out to parties to risk both injury and arrest; 3)
Everybody smoked in the 60’s, and we’re doing ok, right?
For someone with a little more experience in the ways of the world, the tenants of this philosophy seem, well, a bit naive. First, comparing marijuana to alcohol as if it’s a do-or-die, one-or-the-other kind of choice is just silly–plenty of kids get through school without abusing either.
However, there is some validity to this notion from your child’s perspective. High school may be the most awkward social gauntlet in our lives: we are young; we are in constant social, academic, and athletic competition; our hormones are suddenly meddling with our priorities and behavior. Man, in high school I would have done anything to impress a girl.
The reality of this world of cruel rejection and acceptance which depends on social literacy, is that in order to fit in, a student has to do all the right things socially. This means drinking, this means attending parties, this means disregarding authority and getting into trouble. The perception of your child is most likely that some sort of substance abuse is a necessary component of the teenage experience.
Personally, I believe that anything done in moderation is acceptable. Unfortunately, however, we are not the most capable self-moderators (especially not in our youth!).
Therefore, it is important to establish a relationship with your child which allows you an honest (if not in-depth) understanding of that child’s behavior. Your initial goal should not be to forbid or to punish, but rather to understand.
Look closely for signs of use: does he have red or puffy eyes (eye drops can only alleviate redness, while your child will remain puffy around the eyelids)?; can you smell smoke when you hug him?; does he seem unnaturally tired or lazy?; does he return home from a friend’s house and go straight to his room or to shower?
These are signs which may indicate it’s time to have a conversation.
Approach with care and sensitivity. Chances are good that if he’s high, he’s feeling very self-conscious about it around you.
Do not make him think you’re interrogating him, or you will get more grunts and smirks. Ask him if he enjoyed his time with his friends. Then ask if he’s tired. He looks tired. Or stressed maybe? You can make it clear that you are concerned something is wrong–NOT that he has done something wrong, but that he is struggling with something.
It is critical to remember that if he starts to get defensive, even if you think you have him in a corner poised for a confession, you need to back off. You are not the police; you are his parent, and he is looking for support and guidance, not a sentencing.
Here you have a choice: how to make your child feel comfortable confiding in you. Many parents who have good relationships with their children will try telling an incriminating story from their own youth to connect with the child.
This subject is particularly easy to broach, since kids today are generally aware that there was a lot of commonly-accepted drug use happening in the 60’s and 70’s. If you feel comfortable opening up, try telling a story about when you tried drugs and then did something stupid, or felt guilty, or got in trouble.
If this is not the option for you, then try something that always worked when my parents did it to me: completely ignore the matter at hand (the pot), and focus on something you know your child can understand (his safety).
Try something to the effect of, “I don’t know what you do with your friends, and frankly I don’t care if you want to try some things and have a good time.
But I want to be absolutely clear when I tell you NEVER to drive if you are even a little bit drunk or high.” If this hits home, it opens the door for you to make a deal with your child: if he is out and needs a ride, he should call home to explain the situation and ask for a ride. In return for his honesty and responsible behavior, you must grant him immunity from punishment, and he has to know that those are your terms before he will feel comfortable calling.
The conversation on the way home is, “Thanks for calling me”. It is not, “I can’t believe how irresponsible you are”.
Establishing an open relationship where your child feels comfortable confiding in you is the only way to have a real conversation with him about the dangers of drug abuse. Without the ability to trust you enough to share, he will never trust you enough to heed your advice. Work on getting him to communicate willingly.
If your child remains closed and subversive after numerous attempts to communicate, a confrontation is in order long before the child is sent out to live on his own. There are a couple of more serious tricks to get the ball rolling.
Kids generally can’t afford drugs–monitor your money carefully and investigate irregularities. Or if your child seems to be able to afford things outside of his price range, really scrutinize for signs of selling or distribution (which is MUCH more common than parents think. Dealers aren’t really dealers; they are just other kids).
I would never condone searching through someone else’s private property, but parenting presents some unique circumstances. Don’t start by searching his room, which is a sacred space, but maybe try looking through his car first (especially if you’re the one paying for it). A lot of high school kids value their car as their most personal space, and consequently there is a lot of smoking on the roads. Check glove and side compartments for little cases or pouches, lighters pipes or papers, or little bags of drugs. If there is no other way, you can always drug test your kid at home, its really easy, fast and doesn’t invade his=her privacy.
I hate to recommend snooping and catching your child in the act, but if a catalyst is needed to get the conversation started, then something must be done.
The college-aged kids who get sucked into the world of drugs tend to be the ones who never discussed it with their parents at home. Once the truth is out there–which is to say once your child knows that you know he is smoking–you will be amazed how the dynamic of your relationship shifts.
Kids crave support and sympathy, and if you get your foot in the door of his behavioral patterns and make it clear that your intention is to do nothing more than love and help, your child will almost certainly want to include you.