As parents, we want to make sure our kids get the right message about smoking marijuana. But what if our lectures and lessons are in vain? What works and what do our teens just tune out?
Good advice, or bad? Teens come clean
We spoke with teens after their high school days to see what their parents said to them about smoking pot — and whether or not they listened.
Parents of teens are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the game when it comes to their teen’s exposure to drug and alcohol use. Who can forget the television ad that ran when many of us were teens, showing an egg frying in a hot skillet and comparing it to “your brain on drugs.” Obviously drug education has come a long way since those days, but are we spending so much of our time talking about the hard drugs — think meth, crack, ecstasy — that we forget to talk about marijuana? We wondered what worked with teens and what didn’t — so we asked.
Stop the hard sell?
Parents who simply proclaim, “You’d better not smoke pot!” aren’t necessarily setting their kids up to become future pot smokers. But they are closing the door on real communication, which teens appreciate — even though it can be hard for Mom and Dad at times. In order to have an effective education about any important issues with teens, you need to talk, listen and talk again. Many times over.
Kim is a 20-year-old student at Sonoma State University, and she recalls how her parents spoke to her about the subject.
"My parents formed a relationship where I could come to them about pot, or anything, without being simply shamed or punished."
“I did not grow up in a household that just simply preached ‘don't do [drugs]’ for the sole sake of teaching that certain things were sins or would ruin your life,” she says. “Instead my parents worked to instill an overall sense of judgment in both my brother and me. My mother always worked towards creating independent judgment in the pair of us and told us that ‘no one is looking out for you except for you.’ This translated into don't get into a car with a drunk driver, don't give into peer pressure and don't just smoke whatever is offered to you,” she adds.
When she did try pot in high school, she actually talked to her mom about it. “My parents formed a relationship where I could come to them about pot, or anything, without being simply shamed or punished,” she shares. “Having a good sense of judgment, I feel has been more helpful than just avoiding things labeled as ‘bad choices,’” she adds.
The expert’s take
Patricia Newell Bennett, MA, LMHC is an adolescent therapist who specializes in addiction. “I have worked with teens for 30 years,” she says. “I love them! I talk very openly with them about pot and many other drugs and alcohol as well.” She has a stronger take on pot that she shares with teen patients. “Personally, I think that pot is one of the sneakiest, most insidious drugs out there,” she shares. “Although you may not get into fights at parties or arrested for DUI or killed in a car accident while smoking pot, people who become emotionally, socially or spiritually dependent on smoking pot can ruin their lives just the same.” Smoking marijuana can undermine your ability to make decisions and take action around things that once inspired you. “Decades can pass by thinking about all of the wonderful things you're going to do with your life... if you can ever get off the couch,” she adds. Maybe a hard sell is better then?
Do scare tactics work?
It’s tempting as a parent to always go to the extreme when talking to kids about touchy topics.
"Parents have to say that stuff. But after a while, it’s like 'whatever.'"
“Some of my friend’s parents would tell them pot was going to ruin their lives, but it’s cool,” says Ryan, a 19-year-old from Indiana. “My parents were always like ‘Don’t get arrested’ and [things] like that, but nobody gets arrested over a little weed,” he adds. Ryan says that the friends whose parents tried to warn them about their lives being ruined still did what they wanted to do anyway. “Parents have to say that stuff,” he adds. “But after a while, it’s like ‘whatever.’”
Some teens may have a kick-back attitude about pot, but Bennett doesn’t bat an eye at sharing her perspectives with teens. “A life is a terrible thing to waste and guess what? You are ultimately in charge,” she shares. “You are never too young to be candidate for addiction or dependence. Make sure to take a look carefully at your reasons for smoking pot and your family history for addiction or other compulsive behaviors,” she warns. “If you think you might be self-medicating, think about asking for help.”
What you should know about talking to teens about drugs >>
A cautionary tale
One 18-year-old we spoke with who just graduated from high school has seen one friend get so into pot over the past three years that she has lost sight of her goals. “She used to be like, all about going to college and playing volleyball,” says Alexandra. “So now her grades were not that great and she won’t be able to go away, and that sucks.” The long-term consequences of habitual pot use may sneak up on teens, and may rob them of their dreams. For parents who think pot isn’t a big deal — and their kids — this can be a real wake-up call.
Honesty, open communication and consistent monitoring are all necessary as you parent your teens. While many may think pot isn’t that big of a deal, when used consistently it can — and does — have a negative impact on your teen’s future goals and aspirations.
More teens and drugs