My Son Confessed That He's Tried Pot! Should I Punish Him?
My 15-year old son just admitted to me he tried marijuana over the summer. I have no idea how to handle this. I talked to him about drug use, making good choices, my disappointment in him, etc., but do I punish him? How should I punish him? I want him to be open and honest with me, but not sure what else I should be doing except talking to him. Please help.
Weeding through my options
Yours is one of the most common questions asked by parents of teens: What should I do when I discover that my youngster has experimented with drugs or alcohol? I wish the answer were simple; it isn't. But I will try to touch on a few ways you might generally approach the situation, while asking you to keep in mind that, for kids who are in serious trouble -- depression, family history of drug or alcohol abuse, promiscuity, family crisis -- I would point you toward seeking professional help.
Most kids in today's society are going to be offered the opportunity to try alcohol and marijuana, probably many times. These substances are so much a part of adolescent life that it would take extreme isolation to prevent your teen from being exposed to them.
Some parents take the view that all kids will experiment with at least marijuana and alcohol, and that there's nothing much to do about it, other than hope it doesn't become a significant part of their youngster's life. Perhaps these parents use substances themselves, and don't see them as harmful. Others will go as far as to tell their teens that if they want to drink or smoke pot, they should do it at home, believing that it's "good parenting" to have their child -- and his friends -- imbibing under their roof, rather than out and about.
But while it's almost inevitable that our kids will be offered the chance to try illegal substances, it is not in their best interests for parents to simply look the other way. Teens still need parents to help them make good choices; acting like it's no big deal can send a confusing message to a youngster who might not want to drink every weekend, but may not know how to handle the peer pressure to do so.
The other side of this is that if your teen is terrified of your reaction if you discover he's been experimenting with pot or alcohol, he may not tell you about it. Punishing your son for experimenting with marijuana may simply encourage him to become better at hiding it from you.
If there is no significant history of alcoholism or addiction in your family tree, and you're confident your son is generally happy and doing well (rather than depressed, increasingly angry or withdrawn or in the midst of a life crisis), your best approach is to keep communication open.
Ask him how it felt when he smoked pot, and if it was something he was tempted to do more. If he admits he liked it a lot, talk to him about why drugs and alcohol make people feel better. Explain the way the brain works, and the impact these substances can have on lowering inhibition or lifting mood -- temporarily.
Ask him if he'd be willing to listen to your concerns. Explain that while you understand "everyone" may be doing it, you know that, for many kids, the stress relief they experience while under the influence of pot or alcohol can quickly become at least psychologically addicting, and that there are better -- and healthier -- ways of handling social anxiety and pressures. Talk about the impact these substances have on the brain; there are some great scans at brainplace.com.
Most of all, make sure your son knows he can talk with you openly. If you start to sense that his use has escalated beyond normal experimentation, do not hesitate to set guidelines that send him a clear message that it is not OK. At 15, his brain is still in a vulnerable and formative stage, and it is your responsibility to help him make sound decisions that preserve his health and safety.
Finally, take a look at how your son sees you unwinding at the end of the day, or when you socialize. If you have a cocktail the minute you walk in the door after work, or a six-pack when friends come over, you're "teaching" him that people need a substance to unwind or enjoy themselves. Show him you can enjoy life without leaning on something to make you relax or numb out, and you'll be sending the strongest message possible that he can do the same.
Yours in parenting support,
AdviceMama, Susan Stiffelman, is a licensed and practicing psychotherapist and marriage and family therapist. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in developmental psychology and a Master of Arts in clinical psychology. Her book, Parenting Without Power Struggles, is available on Amazon. Sign up to get Susan's free parenting newsletter.
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.