As parents, we're constantly having uncomfortable conversations with our children — and the only thing more uncomfortable than the "birds and the bees" talk is speaking to your teenage child about drugs. The conversation can be so uncomfortable, in fact, that many of us like to try to sweep the whole thing under the rug and just pray that our innocent teenager would never even dream of smoking pot.
And sure, the public is constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the game when it comes the younger generation's exposure to drugs and alcohol (who can forget the "this is your brain on drugs" egg frying ad that ran back in our day?), but sometimes tactics seem a little bit out of touch. We wondered what worked with teens and what didn’t — so we asked.
We spoke with teens just fresh out of high school to see what their parents said to them about smoking pot — and whether or not they listened.
Parents who simply proclaim, "You’d better not smoke pot!" aren’t necessarily setting their kids up to become future pot smokers. They are, however, 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.
"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 shared. "Having a good sense of judgment, I feel has been more helpful than just avoiding things labeled as ‘bad choices.'"
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," Bennett said. "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, says Bennett.
“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?
It’s tempting as a parent to always go to the extreme when talking to kids about touchy topics.
"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,” said Bennett. “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.”
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 — and their kids — who think pot isn’t a big deal, 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.
Originally published August 2013. Updated May 2017.
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