Teens Smoke Pot–Not All, But Many
In our NYC therapy for teens and their parents, we know teens smoke pot. Not all, but many. Pot is accessible and it’s increasingly seen as no big deal. There’s also increasing evidence that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol. As therapists working with both teens and their parents, we aren’t going to take a stand in that. Both alcohol and pot can be harmful at any age. Both have long-term health consequences and are associated with risky behaviors.
Even independent of alcohol, there’s clearly evidence that smoking pot as a teenager has serious downsides. At the end of the day, your kid has to make his or her own choice about pot and own the consequences. It’s also worth noting that in many cases, there may not be outside consequences.
How Can Parents Navigate Their Teen’s Pot Use?: Set Rules, But Be Aware Of Reality
For parents of teens, articulating a position about pot use can be challenging. Should parents tell their teen not to smoke pot or tolerate teens receiving more of a mixed message? First, it’s never helpful to freak out about pot. Most teens are actually pretty smart about drugs. The vast majority of kids who try pot and whose parents find a joint in their sock drawer aren’t ever going to get in over their heads, get busted or start taking harder drugs.
Parents need to let teens know clearly what the rules will be. For example, “If you get caught with pot at school or busted by the cops with weed when smoking in public, there’ll be consequences. Smoking in the house isn’t allowed. Selling pot (even just a tiny bit to a friend) is seriously not okay.” At the same time, parents need to be aware of teens’ reality. People smoke pot. Teens will be offered. They may decide to try it, if not in high school, than later on. Fine. The rules need to be rules, but it’s also important to open up a dialogue.
Ambivalence Isn’t Always Helpful: Sometimes It’s Just Unengaged
In our therapy work with both teens and parents, we see that many parents are ambivalent about pot use. They think, “It’s pot, calm down. We smoke it. They’re going to try it. My teen’s a pretty together kid. I’m not worried he or she is going to become a pothead.”
However, parents that are tolerant around pot (or drinking) often aren’t so much lenient as unengaged. To us, that’s a bigger problem than pot. Parents need to own their authority as part of being engaged with their teen. Beyond the simple, “It’s unhealthy,” there are reasons to say to your teen: “I don’t want you to smoke pot. If you’re caught at school, by the cops, or by me, there’s going to be consequences. It’s not allowed” Teens need rules. They need parents to assert some authority and provide some outside structure that can help them navigate the world. It’s a way of being engaged in your teen’s life.
Parents Of Teens, We Want You To Be Cool And Set Limits
Having firm rules is an important strategy to help raise smart, safe kids, but it can’t be the only part of the strategy. There are limits to how much you can police. The challenge with teen pot use is being engaged as a parent, creating a conversation and being clear about the rules. Essentially, we want parents to be cool and set limits.
How can you do both? Get real with your kid. Get close with your kid. Be honest with your kid about the reality of his or her life. Don’t lie to your teen about drugs and don’t lie to yourself about your kid’s experiences and exposure to drugs. Really engage with them about the question of what it means to try pot.
Also take teens seriously. Teens are capable of understanding science, peer pressure and legal risk. We drive above the speed limit, but not 30 miles per hour above the limit. Eating fried food is something we do sometimes, but we don’t smoke two packs of cigarettes a day. And some of us smoke pot. Talk to your kid about what it means to navigate rules that are okay to break to certain degrees.
We Help Parents And Teens Clarify Their Position And Change The Conversation on Pot Use
With our experience working with both teens and parents, we know how parents can get stuck. They try one tack and get stuck, then, can’t get back out. Commonly parents have been either too lazy, too strict, or too uninvolved. Sometimes both parents and teens need a refresh and therapy can help.
Often the work in therapy on a teen’s pot use ends up being work on getting closer to the teen. We help parents clarify their position, and give it the “smell test,” meaning we look at whether or not it’s sufficiently responsive to the risk at hand and if it’s realistic. We also work to change the conversation from “pot, pot, pot,” and “But, Moooooom! You’re not listening!” to one in which both parents and teens are taking in and talking about the reality of teens’ lives.