Recently, my 15 year-old son was having a sleep over at his friend’s house. The next morning when I went to pick him up, his friend’s mom told me that she caught them smoking pot in the basement. She didn’t seem too worried, saying that boys will be boys, but I was furious! My son has never used marijuana before - that I know of - and he is a good student-athlete. I want to enroll him in a drug education program or something like that. His friend’s mom said I should just let it go. Who’s right?
Concerned Mom in Texas
It must have been a shock for you to find out that your son had been using marijuana. According to the most recent data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 16.4 percent of adolescents 12-17 reported having ever used marijuana, with 7.4 percent reporting past month use. So, as you can see, while some teens do try marijuana, very few use on a regular basis at your son’s age.
While there are definite risks to using marijuana, especially at a young age, giving honest, realistic information about marijuana and having an understanding of things that can help protect young people from experiencing problematic drug use can be more effective than a typical, “Just Say No” approach.
Safety First is a booklet designed for parents by parent and addresses ways to talk to young people about drug use in a way that is informative but not condescending. Sharing honest concerns with young people about substance use interfering with goals and dreams has been shown to be more effective than scare tactics.
An alternative to the hollow, “Just Say No” rhetoric is the message that substance use, like other behaviors such as sexual activity are never risk free, but waiting until adulthood to engage in these behaviors can minimize their risk and increase the likelihood of having a good experience.
However, you also asked how to handle the fact that your son has made the decision to try marijuana. A parent’s first reaction might be punitive, such as school suspension, removal from a sports team or school club. However, research shows that involvement in these types of activities protects against problematic substance use by encouraging healthy peer interactions. I would instead suggest the denial of phone or television privileges, which may actually encourage more prosocial behavior.
Dealing with marijuana use among teens can be tricky, and while the claims of marijuana shrinking brains and lowering IQ has been discounted by researchers, regular intoxication during adolescence is often the symptom of a greater problem related to physical, social or psychological functioning. If marijuana use becomes regular, even in light of consequences, a deeper investigation may be warranted.
Amanda Reiman, PhD, holds a doctorate in Social Welfare and teaches classes on drug policy at the University of California-Berkeley.
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