Written by Doctor G

We think he’s trying drugs…

Q: We have a security system on my 10th grade son’s computer so I know he is using marijuana and alcohol. He is a good student and I’ve known his friends a long time. They are all starting to party weekly. How do I let him know what a bad idea this is and encourage him to stop while still keeping the lines of communication open?

Heather, in Cleveland, OH

A: Have you seen the billboards and commercials that say “Parents: The Anti-drug”? I think this message is great, to a point. I don’t like it because it implies that good parenting means kids will never so much as look at drugs. And that is not realistic. The strong message, though, is that parents are a big part of the solution to kids and drug problems.

Does anything stress us out like the fear of raising a kid only to have them ruin their life with drug use? The easiest, most normal thing in the world is to assume that all your great parenting will pay off, “all kids experiment a little,” stick your head in the sand (or in front of the TV) and hope for the best.

First let me say to readers that I think Heather and her husband are doing the right thing monitoring their son’s computer use. Until teens grow up and move out (or start paying us rent) we are responsible for supervising them. Many kids need this level of supervision. Please do not get wrapped up in protecting his privacy at the risk of his safety – privacy is a privilege, not a right. Despite what our teens would say.

It drives me a little nuts when parents talk about the big dangers of the teen years – substances, sex, violence – as if they are just watching. This is not the same as commenting about what your friend or neighbor’s kid is doing.

Now we’re the parents. Our roles matter. If anything is going to stop your child from doing something dangerous, it is going to be your reaction and the consequences you impose that tip the scale. That is what the “anti-drug” message means.

As a parent your child expects you to have a role in his choices. He may say he expects complete autonomy, but he doesn’t really expect that, or probably even want it yet. You are not a casual observer in his decision making process – you are the speed bump that should make him slow down (or break his axle if he doesn’t). Your anger or concern or the punishment he would face if you “found out” do play a part in what he chooses to do.

All that said, he will make the final decision about this. You cannot be there to change his mind at the last minute. So how you lay the groundwork for his thought process and expectations does matter.

When a teen is involved in or considering a behavior that you believe is dangerous you have several options about how to handle it. Here is a guide to the decisions.

1. Talk to your spouse or parenting partner if you have one.
Decide between the two of you what level of experimentation, if any, is acceptable to both of you. Be clear with each other about boundaries and limits. This is the time to consider this child and his developmental stage. Does he need (as a sophomore in high school) to be drug free? Is trying something once or twice acceptable to you? Are certain substances OK with you but not others? Try to be concrete about this.

Note that you first decide what is OK with you and then decide what you will tell your child. For example, you may decide that you expect your child to try alcohol or pot and then decide what you will do if he does. You need to know when you would drug test, get counseling, involve the police. Think these aren’t issues for parents whose kids experiment with drugs? Oh, but they are. You may decide on all of that between you but still choose to say: Don’t touch drugs.

2. Sit down with your son.
Be clear and informed about his situation. Either tell him you know what is going on or tell him you know these issues will present themselves soon. You do not have to tell him how you know.

Make the consequences of substance use clear. Remind him of the framework of expectations in your house. Hopefully this is already clear – he needs to be safe, you need to know where he is, he has to meet curfew and academic and other requirements. He needs to be respectful at home. Then add this expectation, and explain the consequences of using (or trying if that is how you decide).

You do not have to be angry during any of this. You can be compassionate, understanding, friendly and firm. Let him know that you are always a safety net for him or his friends if someone is in a bad spot. You will get them home safely from anywhere, at anytime, if necessary.

Be the parent. These are not theoretical issues, and your child needs your guidance.

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2 thoughts on “We think he’s trying drugs…”

  1. My ex-husband is the ‘Executive Director’ of Pgh NORML. He thinks drugs should be legal. I appreciate the even way you have thought this out. It is logical, and helps me think through how to talk with my children.

    I know that we will not agree, but this is a great guideline for us to begin co-parenting on this issue. Thank you.

  2. So for other readers, NORML is a non-profit dedicated to making marijuana legal in more places.

    Christine – thanks for your comment. This may be an issue that you and your husband disagree about, but I’m sure that your children’s safety is not. Most parents have some hot-button issue that they see from different sides – music, sex, employment, sports participation, friends… You’ve just found yours in time to give it some thought before it comes up.

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