Dear Dr. Wolf,
My teen smokes pot, plain and simple. He'll never admit it, but I've found rolling papers and empty Ziploc bags in his room, and sometimes he smells like it when he comes home. He just started Grade 11, which is a big year. My biggest issue is his moodiness and lack of ambition at school. I want to speak to him about the pros and cons, but I can't lecture him because I did the same at his age. I got an education and a good job and stopped after university, but I had a lot of high-school friends who veered down the wrong path. How do I start this conversation with my son?
Dear Pothead's Pop,
Many parents today feel conflicted about their children and marijuana use - especially if they themselves were marijuana users (and perhaps still are), and don't feel that marijuana was ever a significant problem in their lives.
They may even think of it fondly. "What can I say? Had a really good time. I liked that part of my life."
Even so, whether they smoked pot or not, most parents also know of at least one cautionary tale.
"Yeah, Jack Redburn. Good guy. But when he got heavily into pot in high school, he just kind of drifted. Even up to today, he's always had just kind of dead-end jobs."
And most parents are just not comfortable with the idea of their kid smoking pot, especially on a regular basis.
The problem, of course, is that there is a double standard. The risks that we were willing to take when we were teenagers is some. The degree of risk that we are comfortable with for our teens is none.
"Yeah, let him sit home and play video games."
"You don't mind it if your kid has a totally boring, not really happy adolescence?"
"No, as long as he's safe."
Here's the bottom line: If you feel your kid has a problem with marijuana - maybe you're right, maybe you're wrong - and you aren't comfortable with it, then you need to act.
Do not ignore it. Do not suffer it. This is one of those tough teenage issues that has no absolute, guaranteed-to-work answers. But that does not mean that there aren't things that you can and should do.
Number one, you should confront them. Repeatedly. Regardless of your reception.
No, you probably won't get this: "Oh, here for the marijuana talk again. I'm all ears."
More like this: "Omigod, not this again. I don't smoke marijuana. I don't have a problem with marijuana. I would appreciate if you would just leave. I'm not going to listen anyway."
Do not be deterred. Your point is to place your words in their head. And to keep placing them there. They would like to ignore them. But they can't. Your words do create a negative awareness.
"Everything Dad says is totally stupid. I don't care what he says, I'm going to do what I'm doing."
But the unpleasant - for them - thoughts are in there. You are not going along with their total denial, and that's what's important.
Clinical psychologist Anthony E. Wolf is the author of six parenting books, including Get out of my life, but first could you drive me and Cheryl to the mall?: A Parent's Guide to the New Teenager.
How to have a conversation with a possibly pothead teen
Go to them and start right in. Your point is not to try to convince them and to convey to them what you think. What you say should be short and simple. Here's a sample.
1) "I'm concerned. I think you smoke and I think it's a problem."
"This is so crazy, Dad. I don't smoke and I don't have a problem."
Do not argue with them. You are simply stating what you think.
2) "You may think you have control over your marijuana smoking. But with many pot smokers the way that it works is that you think that it is you who is choosing to smoke or not, but it isn't. I worry that it is this way with you."
"You so much don't know what you are talking about."
Again, do not touch it.
3) "I feel that your marijuana smoking is having a bad effect on you. I see your effort slipping in school. I see you having less ambition. And I see you more moody and more negative when you are home."
"Marijuana has nothing to do with it. School is really stupid."
4) "I worry that if you continue the way you're going, you could end up not doing as much with your life as you should. Selling yourself short."
And now you want to end. Your words are in their head.
And what do you say if you have been a marijuana smoker, especially if they ask. Be honest. Also, if you liked it and don't feel that it was a big problem for you, but worry about the real risks for them, say that. You can say you feel you were fortunate, but that you believe marijuana smoking does have very real risks, and tell them what you think they are.
If you continue to be concerned, find out about resources in your area for teens with drug issues. Local hospitals and family doctors are usually good sources to find out what exists in your area.
E-mail your questions to Dr. Anthony E. Wolf at email@example.com