Teens who abuse

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  May 30, 2012 06:00 AM

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I have a 16 year old son who has used marijuana at times over the last two years. We have grounded him, taken privileges away, etc but have maintained a loving, helpful relationship with him and have driven home the point that we love him unconditionally. Last night he came home high and we found pot in his car. He has had his driver's license 3 weeks and we have a driving contract wherein he agreed that using / having / storing drugs was not allowed and he would lose driving privileges. There are many things in life he has right - everyone talks about what a good kid he is, he makes good grades, etc. However he continues to fall back into the same routine. We are a christian family and live in a peaceful, loving home where we teach our boys that God loves them and so do we, and that they will never be perfect and we don't expect them to be. I'm not sure where to go from here. Do we just stick with the driving contract and say he can't drive for 2 weeks and then give him back the keys? Do we ground him as obviously can't be trusted to be where he says he will be?

From: B, Atlanta


Dear B,

Teens consider themselves invincible, immortal and invulnerable....until they have a first-hand reason to think otherwise, often,sadly, after a tragedy of one kind or another. Don't wait for that to happen:

1. Say what you mean and mean what you say. If you say you are going to ground him as a consequence for marijuana use, they do it, and do it in a way that he knows you mean business and that he can't get around.

2. Get professional help. The marijuana kids use today is powerful, it has 500 percent more THC than the pot of previous generations of users. It is highly addictive and can alter the way the brain works, including affecting the motivation levels of frequent users. Because the teen brain is still a work in progress, frequent pot use can have serious negative implications. Does your teen understand that? Does he believe it? Often it takes someone other than a parent to make this point sink in.

David Walsh, one of my favorite authors on teen behavior and author of "Why do they Act That Way, A survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for you and Your Teen," writes that many parents fall into a trap of what he calls willful denial. They don't confront their teens on these tough issues because they are afraid of the conflict that may ensue.

It sounds like you have a good relationship with your son and it sounds like you are at the beginning of this journey. Insisting on accountability is the best tool you have, especially when they know you take it seriously. He violated your trust and you need to hold him accountable, not because you are mean parents but because you are loving, caring parents. As Walsh writes, "Allowing some substance use or looking the other way [because it's the end of the year; because it's summer; because it's graduation]* mixes up your messages and mixes up your kid. Give your teen clear boundaries. If you don't, then they will push out further and further on their own until they do real damage to their brains."

* Bracketed material is mine, not Walsh's.

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5 comments so far...
  1. It's funny that a Christian from a conservative Southern state would ask for advice about teen marijuana use from a columnist in a state that decriminalized pot such that people smoke it in public and no one flinches.

    Don't think of him as a delinquent, think of him as a future Emerson/NYU/UC-Berkley student.

    Posted by AP May 30, 12 10:50 AM
  1. Wow, there is a lot of misinformation in this advice. All studies show that marijuana isn't addictive and when you lie to teens or anyone for that matter it does not make you a credible source and does not create trust. Driving under the influence should not be allowed whether that is alcohol, marijuana, prescription medication that advises against it etc. You don't need to use the "Just Say No to Drugs" scare tactics that research has proven don't work. Simply put, your teen violated a rule by driving under the influence, he knows the consequences so follow through without including lies and scare tactics and your relationship will remain strong.

    Posted by Jennifer May 30, 12 12:28 PM
  1. Marijuana is highly addictive?

    Oh, Barbara, please tell me you are not this out of touch.

    Posted by Linney May 31, 12 03:55 PM
  1. You stick to the contract: in the Bible it says "let your yes be yes and your no be no". Did you really have to ask?

    So, after the two-week grounded period is over, you set the same rule with a higher penalty: second use of pot while driving means a FULL MONTH of no privileges. Third violation of the contract means SIX MONTHS of no access to the car.

    Loving unconditionally does NOT mean that you will bend the laws of the land. It means that you will teach your children to respect those laws by your own behavior, and by contracts with penalties that are enforced. And make sure your son has not made his own copy of the car keys...

    Posted by Irene May 31, 12 09:29 PM
  1. Marijuana is not addictive. This isn't heroin or coke or even a cigarrette.

    Posted by jd June 1, 12 01:57 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. It's funny that a Christian from a conservative Southern state would ask for advice about teen marijuana use from a columnist in a state that decriminalized pot such that people smoke it in public and no one flinches.

    Don't think of him as a delinquent, think of him as a future Emerson/NYU/UC-Berkley student.

    Posted by AP May 30, 12 10:50 AM
  1. Wow, there is a lot of misinformation in this advice. All studies show that marijuana isn't addictive and when you lie to teens or anyone for that matter it does not make you a credible source and does not create trust. Driving under the influence should not be allowed whether that is alcohol, marijuana, prescription medication that advises against it etc. You don't need to use the "Just Say No to Drugs" scare tactics that research has proven don't work. Simply put, your teen violated a rule by driving under the influence, he knows the consequences so follow through without including lies and scare tactics and your relationship will remain strong.

    Posted by Jennifer May 30, 12 12:28 PM
  1. Marijuana is highly addictive?

    Oh, Barbara, please tell me you are not this out of touch.

    Posted by Linney May 31, 12 03:55 PM
  1. You stick to the contract: in the Bible it says "let your yes be yes and your no be no". Did you really have to ask?

    So, after the two-week grounded period is over, you set the same rule with a higher penalty: second use of pot while driving means a FULL MONTH of no privileges. Third violation of the contract means SIX MONTHS of no access to the car.

    Loving unconditionally does NOT mean that you will bend the laws of the land. It means that you will teach your children to respect those laws by your own behavior, and by contracts with penalties that are enforced. And make sure your son has not made his own copy of the car keys...

    Posted by Irene May 31, 12 09:29 PM
  1. Marijuana is not addictive. This isn't heroin or coke or even a cigarrette.

    Posted by jd June 1, 12 01:57 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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