Every time I do a presentation for parents of teens, two questions just about always come up:
- Will my kid be a functional, productive adult, even if right now they’re (fill in the blank):
- not doing enough homework?
- not doing anything but homework?
- not taking school seriously enough?
- taking school too seriously?
- going out too much?
- not going out enough?
2. What is the “right” thing to say to teens about drugs and alcohol?
The first question has an easy-ish answer: Despite (or because of) your kid’s idiosyncrasies, they will most likely make it through adolescence relatively unscathed and learn enough adulting skills to have a pretty reasonable life, even if their life, values, and priorities are different from yours. Most of us get through adolescence. If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you did.
But the second question is trickier. What is the “right” thing to say to teens about drugs and alcohol?
For starters, I’m pretty sure there is no one right thing. Teens (and the rest of us) are getting insane mixed messages about drugs, especially marijuana, right now. Some parents buy marijuana for their kids; some pull out a frying pan and an egg to give a 1980s-esque demonstration showing this is your brain on drugs. Some places it’s legal; some it’s not. Some people swear marijuana helps with anxiety, depression, creativity, and sleep; some people argue it interferes with all of the above as well as with brain development, makes ADHD and motivation worse, decreases efforts to build alternative coping strategies, and lowers the effectiveness of anti-depressants. It’s especially tricky when we consider how common marijuana use is among white people as well as people of color, and yet marijuana laws are so selectively enforced, with huge disparities in enforcement based on race. A black teen getting caught smoking marijuana may face drastically different legal consequences than a white teen doing the exact same thing. So how do you create rules or express family values when there are so many shifting cultural messages, and no coherent community principles or agreed-upon research to support, reinforce, or guide you? Not so easily.
But I think there’s an even more important question that’s even harder to answer. How do parents build a strong enough relationship with their teens to be able to talk about drugs and have the best chance of a positive impact? That’s the gazillion dollar question. And it has no simple answers… except maybe family counseling (which is of course my bias).
I loved this article and this follow up for their thoughtful discussions of these topics. Pro tip? Print the article and send it to your kid and ask them what they think about it. Sometimes introducing a topic through an article is a way to open up a conversation without defensiveness.