Marijuana: What to do when it finds you and your family

Pot is a “loaded” subject.  Joking aside, it seems that pot has been in the news a lot lately.  In my observation, parents and teens seem to have different opinions about it.  Some teens seem to think that pot helps their success, giving them a way to calm down when stressed or even sleep.  Some parents are not so worried about their teen using the drug as they feel like it is not as serious as other drugs and, because they used it when they were young, they know the effects.  Other parents are very worried about their teens being exposed to the drug. 

I have also come across many articles recently about the effects of pot on the developing teen brain.  In summary, most research I have seen seems to indicate that the drug (now bred to a much more potent state than decades ago), harms the developing brain, which is not recommended for teen’s brains reaching their full potential.  Unfortunately, these articles and the research do not seem to be resulting in the diminished usage of pot by teens.  As we all know, many to most of the teens at LGHS have either tried or are often using pot for a variety of reasons.  My point of view is that pot stunts and negatively impacts the growing teen brain, robbing it of the ability to grow to its full potential as seen in reduced cognitive abilities and an increased risk of mental illness.  Pot is still illegal federally and only marginally legal in California, under certain circumstances. 

In addition to these emotional and cognitive effects, what effect does this drug have on a teen’s family relationships? 

Parents usually discover that their teen is using marijuana in one of two ways: either directly from their teen or from an outside source of information (Facebook, Tumblr, friends, other family members, other parents, law enforcement, etc.).  When a parent discovers that their teen is using a drug, they are often shocked and some are relieved because they now understand why their relationship with their teen has been deteriorating.  They know that these years are key to finding passions and setting up one’s life for success, culminating in adulthood, college, independence and the ultimate choice to succeed or not live up to one’s potential.

When a teen’s pot use comes out and parents confront their teen, the teen also feels a lot of different emotions.  They are often angry, embarrassed, ashamed or simply annoyed that their parents are now getting “into my business.”  Regardless of the feelings on both sides of the situation, emotions tend to run high.  This is often a crisis in a family (in some families more than others) and, as with most crises, is a chance to change the relationship for the better.

During this “discovery” process, parents will often learn a lot about their teen.  If they are able to listen, this information can be useful in strengthening their relationship and addressing the pot use.  For example, often parents will learn that their teen is using the drug with a different group of friends than they thought the teen had.  They seem to have this whole other social world.  Though shocking, that’s good information.  It can indicate to parents that their teen does not feel like they can be themselves with the other friends, or it can indicate that the teen is feeling insecure and is using these other friends to provide a sense of belonging.  Other times, parents might discover an angry and frustrated teen that they did not see before.  Again, this information provides them with an opportunity to relate to their teen better, by trying to understand what they are saying, perhaps, or considering the level of independence they have been offering up until the discovery.  This information can be useful when working to end the teen’s use of the drug.

What can both parents and teens do to work through this situation and end up with a closer relationship?  How do parents and teens address the teen’s interest in using marijuana so that everyone’s needs are met?  Here are some useful tips for navigating these troubled waters. 

  •          Be clear on your stance about pot:  Many parents are not sure where they stand on their teen’s use of pot.  In fact, sometimes one parent will feel one way and the other parent will feel the opposite.  To work with your teen in this difficult time, both parents have to agree on their stance on the subject, and particularly separated or divorced families.  This takes communication between parents to clarify these opinions.  Just because you used pot in the past does not mean you have to be in favor of your teen using it today.  It has been cultivated to be a far more potent drug now.  You did stop your pot use for a reason.  Work at this until you can both present a unified position against your teen’s use of the drug.
  •          Keep up with the scientific research:  There is a lot of information available about the effects of marijuana on the teen brain.  Do a periodic search for information on Google.  Remember to trust reliable sources of research like the National Institute of Drug Abuse, this Harvard Medical School presentation (excellent),  or other unbiased sources.  Sometimes individuals who sell marijuana will put out information that is either biased or untrue in order to increase people’s consumption of pot.  This caveat is true of any medical research, though.
  • ·         Communicate your stance:  When you have your information and perspective clarified, talk about this issue as a family with your teen.  This should be an open discussion where everyone is heard.  Be sure to listen to your teen.  Teens should also be sure to listen to parents.  This can be an emotional discussion, but when everyone is heard, the emotions go down.
  •          Listen, listen, listen: Listening to both sides is critical!  Make sure that everyone is heard.
  •          Adjust rules and expectations with both sides in mind:  When changes to a teen’s life are rolled out in response to their pot use, be sure that they take in to account the needs of the teen.  For example, grounding a teen for a long time does not take into account the role that the pot plays in their life.  Perhaps they are bored at school or in their life.  Maybe they need help finding new friends.  Maybe they are feeling insecure with themselves and need a boost. Isolation as a consequence in itself does not create a solution.
  •        Continue the conversation:  A teen’s pot use should be an ongoing discussion.  Checking in from time to time on the topic can open new areas of discussion.  Allowing a teen to have a voice in this discussion is critical.  Teens, though, need to understand that sometimes they do not see all the consequences and parents can typically display better judgment and have more experience about what might happen in the future.

Everyone knows that finding out that your teen is smoking pot can be a challenge.  Hopefully, by really listening to what your teen says about their pot (or other drug) use and clarifying your own stance on the drug, you can move through this challenge with as few bumps as possible.  Also, if the bumps become too big, and the challenges seem overwhelming, remember there are many of us out there that deal with this issue on a regular basis.  Reach out for help!

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