By Terry Real
Remember when having “the talk” was about the birds and the bees? Oh if it were just that easy these days. Educating our kids about sex is nothing. It’s talking to them about alcohol and drugs that makes us weak in the knees.
So how do parents of the drug-soaked 60s, 70s and 80s tell their kids to “Just Say No” when they said yes, especially when the kids look back and ask, “Did you?”
The bottom line is that most parents feel like hypocrites on this subject, and it paralyzes them. For many, tossing back a six pack with their buddies, sneaking a cigarette behind the school or smoking pot was part of their identity as rebel youths. Sure, they may be straight-laced, gated community-dwellers now, but there’s still some rebellious pride in being able to score a joint and sneak out on the porch when the kids are at a sleepover.
One of my favorite stories is about some clients who were a couple of old Baby Boomers. They had a very old bag of pot left over. It was part of their identity as ex-hippies, and they didn’t want to get rid of it, but their kids were getting older, and they didn’t want it found either. What did they do? They wrapped it in freezer paper, marked it “liver”, and stuck it in the fridge.
The New Reality
There are several major concerns about keeping kids away from drugs. One of the most depressing new realities is that the peer pressure to imbibe now begins in middle-school. According to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, kids as young as the 4th grade (ages 9 and 10) are being approached to try pot. And this early exposure is not limited to the inner cities; it is rampant in the suburbs.
Cigarettes and marijuana are the ports of entry to alcohol and other drug use as well as early sexual behavior. The longer kids wait to enter into these behaviors, the fewer problems they will have with these issues. Therefore, “the talk” as soon as possible is very important.
Just because pot was a relatively benign drug back in our day doesn’t mean it’s benign anymore. The marijuana kids are being offered today is substantially stronger than it was back then. In fact, pot is the number one reason for drug addiction in America.
Marijuana addiction is misunderstood. We think of addiction as a drug that causes physiological withdrawal, but that’s not the way professionals define addiction anymore. Addiction is now defined as the persistence of harmful behavior in the face of known consequences.
In addition to the illegality of the matter, it is particularly problematic for underage kids to experiment with cigarettes, alcohol and drugs because their central nervous systems are still developing well into their teen years.
The Act vs. The Behavior
This is where the real parenting on the matter begins: Looking at the behavior versus the act itself. The important thing is to not let your own history disempower you from setting clear boundaries with your kids. The real question is do you feel like a hypocrite, and how do you take your own youthful indiscretions out of the equation?
Your official position should be that you do not condone underage smoking, drinking and drug use. On the other hand, as kids enter their teen years, smoking pot is rampant, especially among highschoolers. So, if you catch your kid in the act or if you find evidence of it, don’t get too hung up on the act itself. Of course you have to admonish him for doing it, but focus on the behavior and the real consequences if you want to make an impact. It has less to do with the pot or the beer per se than your kid’s relationship to it.
Again, your official position should be that you want them to wait until they’re at college or off on their own, but the fact is that the world is not coming to an end if they are just experimenting once or twice. It didn’t for you, did it?
The real issue for you as a parent is how much is this behavior causing trouble with your child’s growth and development, school performance and friendships? Simply put, if it’s getting in the way, it’s getting in the way.
You know it has become a problem if you notice his grades are dropping, if he becomes less attentive or less active with his extracurriculars, or if there is a radical shift in his social groups. That’s when you sit the child down and say, “Look, this is a bad thing for you, and here’s why…” Don’t focus on the pot or booze as much as you focus on the problem, “Your grades are dropping, and I don’t like the kids you’re hanging with.”
Once you’ve had the chat, you monitor the situation. If he does have a problem then you take him to a professional and have him evaluated, and if he’s stoned all the time then you need to think about rehab.
So, don’t be afraid to be a hypocrite – stand up and express your concerns. Have frank conversations and most of all keep your eyes on things.