unlike the former president, my son inhaled
May 22, 2009 6:02 PM   Subscribe

Help me respond appropriately to my teenage son's marijuana use.

My son is 15, a long-haired, skateboarding, guitar-playing punk who has begun smoking pot. I caught him red-eyed today, but I have been suspicious on another occasion, and I'm guessing he's done it maybe a half-dozen times. He is, of course, a good kid, has been earning As and Bs this year for the first time ever, loves kids & animals, serves lunch at a local shelter, mows the neighbor's lawn, etc. He is also lazy and stubborn, and sometimes disrespectful. He's typical. I worry about him because ... well, because of the usual reasons, I guess. I'm his mom.

I read this thread, which has some good advice in it, but because my son is not in trouble, or rebelling, or slipping in school, and I'm not concerned about pot per se the way the OP in the other thread was, I'm seeking additional responses. My feelings about pot are that it ought to be legal, but it isn't. I have talked to my boys (my other son is 13) about both safety concerns and legal concerns. They know I've done it, they know my opinions about its legal status, and they also know the consequences are more punitive now, and that it's stronger and more anonymous (therefore risky) than it was back in the day. (They do not know that I still occasionally --- like once a year occasionally --- get high. I don't think it has any bearing on the situation, but I'm putting that out here for full disclosure.)

I've addressed it with them the same way I've addressed sex with them --- I don't want you to do this at all unless and until you're old enough to understand and face the consequences, but if you're going to do it, you have to protect yourself.

Bringing these boys up has been easy up to now. All previous issues have been pretty much black-and-white. Yes you can do that, no you can't do this. Here's why. OK mom. I think whatever success I've had raising them so far can be attributed to my being consistent with regard to rules and punishment/reward. I'm ambivalent about this one, because acknowledging that they might/will smoke pot comes very close to approving it.

I busted him under these circumstances: he was hanging out with friends at a local skatepark after school, and when I left work & the grocery store I told him I'd stop by there on my way home to give him a drink. So I did, and when he leaned in to the car to talk for a minute before I went home, I saw the telltale look. I had him sit in the car with me and we talked a little bit. He admitted to it, but the discussion was actually more about his denial and talking back to me than about the pot itself. He was stoned though, so it would have been pointless to discuss it in depth then. I found myself surprisingly unprepared as well. So we tabled it and I will bring it up later this weekend.

I don't want him to smoke pot. He's going to smoke pot. To forbid him to smoke pot is inviting secrecy and lies. To allow him to smoke pot is endorsing dangerous, illegal activity.

My brother, whose opinions about pot are similar to mine, thinks I'm making a mistake by not setting down firm unbendable rules about this. His oldest child is 9. My brother also thinks I'm being alarmist about the legal consequences and the quality/purity/strength/questionable sources of whatever my son might be smoking.

So. What advice do you have for a mother who needs to talk with her teenage son about smoking pot? He is looking for his first summer job, he's practicing driving (although he won't get his license for at least a year if not later), and we're coming up on a summer where he's not in school but I'm at work.
posted by headnsouth to Human Relations (42 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
He's your son, not your friend. You know how the authorities in his life (you know, school officials, etc.) would react if THEY caught him-you need to lovingly but firmly set the boundaries and enforce them.

What you do is see that his opportunities to smoke pot are not available. If that means he is not home alone while you are at work, that is what it means. If it means he is not out unsupervised with his friends, that is what it means. In my house he would have lost those privileges under the circumstances.

(Mine are grown but one did the underage binge drinking thing once. I "cruelly" made her go to her parttime job with a raging hangover. It never happened again.)

Full disclosure, I smoked back in the day but not since 1979 or so.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:09 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

My brother also thinks I'm being alarmist about the legal consequences and the quality/purity/strength/questionable sources of whatever my son might be smoking.

Re: the quality/purity/strength issues, you are--pot these days isn't much stronger than it used to be, and besides, pot users titrate--if marijuana is stronger, then they usually just don't consume as much. Which is a good thing, as far as inhaling things is concerned.

I think the really major issue here is that he was smoking in public. If you're asking him to protect himself, then he needs to not smoke in public--it's actually much safer to be smoking discreetly in his home than it would to be smoking with his friends in a skatepark or (once they get their licenses) hotboxing their car.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:10 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I am you. Like your son, as well, our son was a good kid, great grades, active in after school programs, popular. (He's now 23.)

We went through exactly this, caught him smoking pot in the house. This broke our basic rule of no illegal activities in the house, and our known disapproval of the use of intoxicating substances by minors. We grounded him for six months, changed his banking account to one where he could not get at the money without our knowledge/sign off, changing banks so that it wasn't near his school, and signed him back up for karate class, which he had dropped.

I do not for a minute believe that he stopped smoking pot when he could get away with it, and I think he knows that, but it also strongly reinforced in his mind that our rules were serious and meant to be adhered to, that we would follow through (he already knew that) and that he needed to consider consequences to unacceptable behavior. He knows it was not about the pot per se, but rather about his disrespect for our rules, and our concern about him feeling a need to get high when solitary, rather than in a social setting. I have no idea how this has affected his thinking or lifestyle, but I do know that we have a great relationship, and that I trust him to respect my ethics, even my silly ones.

He's one of the most mature young people I know, indepedent and steady, and I like to think it's because of lessons like that one when he was in high school. But who knows.
posted by nax at 6:17 PM on May 22, 2009 [12 favorites]

Well, you're being a giant hypocrite, and no amount of "I only do it once a year" or "it's so different these days" is going to help that. Just so you know.

Why don't you want him to smoke pot? It just doesn't make sense.

In any case, you're mostly doing right, I think. Your major concerns here are twofold: you don't want him to get caught by the police, and you don't want him to do stupid things while high. Just.. tell him that. Give him some tips, just like you would with sex.
posted by TypographicalError at 6:17 PM on May 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

To the laissez-faires, it should be no newsflash that regular marijuana use can cause problems in the still-developing teenage brain. That fact gives you all the excuses you need to not feel guilty about strongly enforcing a no-pot rule. When he turns 18, he can do what he wants, but you're currently responsible for his health and well-being.
posted by wackybrit at 6:30 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Wait, what?

They do not know that I still occasionally --- like once a year occasionally --- get high. I don't think it has any bearing on the situation, but I'm putting that out here for full disclosure.

Yes, this has great bearing on the situation.

What about the safety concerns and legal concerns for you? What about the quality/purity/strength/questionable sources for you? The things you say you are concerned about apply at least equally in your own case -- but that doesn't stop you.

15 is not 35, yes, and there are plenty of things you do that would not be a good idea for your kids to do, and to you, apparently, this is one of them. Well, why? No really -- why? I think that is what you want to make sure you have answered before you open the discussion.
posted by Methylviolet at 6:31 PM on May 22, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I do not for a minute believe that he stopped smoking pot when he could get away with it, and I think he knows that, but it also strongly reinforced in his mind that our rules were serious and meant to be adhered to, that we would follow through (he already knew that) and that he needed to consider consequences to unacceptable behavior.

This. Ignore the "you're being a giant hypocrite" bullshit. It's got nothing to do with that in this case (it might if you were a regular user and did it in front of your kid all the time, but you don't). Frankly, you can smoke once in a while if you want, because you know what the fuck you're doing. Your kid doesn't: he's a kid. Just imagine it was alcohol, you may have a beer sometimes, but do you really want your kid drinking every night on the street out of a paper bag? No. Duh.

I think the important things here are about showing that you care enough to make sure he thinks about what it means when he smokes pot and knows you really care enough to bring it up, and finally, understands there are consequences for his actions. These are what is really important. These are what it's about. If you are coming sincerely from a place of love and respectful guidance, nothing you can say will be (that) wrong. The answer is not going to be black and white (pot is both unfairly illegal, it's quite less harmful than booze, but becoming a stoner is not really the thing to do ya know?), it's going to be uncomfortable, but that's life. Sounds like you are handling it as well as you could be so far. Just remember what the point is.
posted by dubitable at 6:31 PM on May 22, 2009 [13 favorites]

Best answer: If I understand your concerns correctly, I think something along these lines might be what you're looking for.

"Son, if I can tell you're doing pot, so can someone who wants to get you in trouble. You took a risk doing pot in public, and it's just not a good idea. I would have been heartbroken if I came to pick you up and found out the police had gotten there first."
posted by zippy at 6:32 PM on May 22, 2009 [11 favorites]

Forbid the pot in the home. If you do not want him to smoke pot at all, tell he is forbidden until he is 18.

However, if you think it is ok, don't make a statement about the pot in your house. Just say that he cannot smoke it in the house.

For legal reasons, do not let him smoke in your house.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:33 PM on May 22, 2009

Best answer: I don't think it's hypocritical to make an adult decision to smoke pot occasionally while disapproving of a 15-year-old's irresponsible and obvious use of marijuana. There are plenty of behaviors parents get to regulate without modifying their own personal choices.

Depending on the individual kid, there may be a way to express "Don't do illegal things, like smoking pot in public, don't do illegal things at my house, don't be stupid; if I catch you doing illegal things, including but not limited to marijuana use, the consequences will be X, Y, and Z" without coming across as either demonizing marijuana itself or approving of using it. When I was a teenager, my mom occasionally talked about how she thought marijuana laws were dumb and that pot should be legal, and I never got the sense that she thought smoking pot was inherently bad or wrong, but I never took that to mean that she was ok with me breaking the law or would be cool with me smoking at home, either. I knew that marijuana laws were dumb, but I also knew that my parents didn't equate dumb laws with "laws our kids are allowed to break."
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:36 PM on May 22, 2009 [4 favorites]

To forbid him to smoke pot is inviting secrecy and lies.

Being open with your son about your own experiences and continued use of pot might be the best place to start when forging an open and trusting relationship with him. As well as encouraging a mature and safe environment in which to smoke pot, rather than him hiding in a bus shelter downtown or whatever.

He is, of course, a good kid,

has been earning As and Bs this year for the first time ever

loves kids & animals, serves lunch at a local shelter, mows the neighbor's lawn, etc.

my son is not in trouble, or rebelling, or slipping in school

I'm not concerned about pot

He is looking for his first summer job, he's practicing driving

He doesn't sound like a bad kid. If he was hanging out in public doing it then it needs recitified, but it doesn't look like a huge problem.
posted by fire&wings at 6:43 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: pot these days isn't much stronger than it used to be

Um, PBWK, how old are you, exactly? It used to (in the 70s) take a whole joint to get high.

headnsouth, I think you should explain to your son what the consequences are in the state of Virginia if he is apprehended and convicted of possessing/using pot. And explain to him that you believe that those consequences unjust. And explain how devastated you would be if he had to suffer those consequences, and that the fact that they are unjust would not diminish the devastation, but make it worse.

You have to be willing to accept the consequences when your children act on their conscience—not that it won't hurt. But you might, in this instance, be able to help him distinguish between his conscience vis-a-vis the law, and his conscience vis-a-vis his family, and choose the latter. You can approve of the right, in the abstract, to smoke pot, but disapprove of him putting himself in harm's way by doing so. If he really feels strongly about the right, he can do more to advance that cause as a non-smoker. In the meantime, he can respect you by not putting himself at risk of incarceration.
posted by bricoleur at 6:46 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I use grades as an important barometer for how well teens have their lives together. I'd start monitoring school closely, and making sure that homework is done, etc. If school is good, he's probably good. Sad to say, he's better off having a run in with the law and learning his lesson at 15 than having an adult arrest record. I agree with your brother that your worries about adulterated pot are probably overblown. My greatest concern, if I were his parent, would be that he becomes "addicted" to pot, and lets all the good things in his life erode away. In my stoner days, all my friends were stoners, and it made it kind of hard to escape the pot subculture. Why not try orchestrating situations where he is spending time with non-pot smoking friends. Given that pot is the symbol of rebellion and anti-authoitariansim par excellence, I would be careful about how adamant and strict you are in laying down rules. However, I agree with previous commenters that letting him smoke pot in the house is out of the question, and you should not condone his pot smoking in any way.
posted by Crotalus at 6:47 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

It used to (in the 70s) take a whole joint to get high.

And now it doesn't. Thank goodness for decent pot. Less carcinogens for the users. I will be convinced that stronger pot is something to be scared of when I hear about someone dying of a pot overdose, or we discover that no one drinks beer anymore because everyone has graduated to Everclear.
posted by Crotalus at 6:51 PM on May 22, 2009 [7 favorites]

Pot is a forbidden fruit, at the personal level and at the societal level.

A teaching moment might be having him tell you why this is, rather than lecturing him.
posted by toroi at 6:58 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't want you to do this at all unless and until you're old enough to understand and face the consequences, but if you're going to do it, you have to protect yourself.

I think this is great, but the other thing they should be aware of is that they place you at risk if they bring pot into your home with intent to sell. At least in Florida, I know your property (like a house or car) can be confiscated in this way. I don't know what state you live in, but I think it's worth going over the drug statutes with them so they understand exactly what they are getting into.

They may deny that they'll ever sell, but I know multiple people who smoked for fun and eventually got their parents dragged into the drama by selling from home.

(Also, everything nax said- awesome advice there.)
posted by Mouse Army at 6:58 PM on May 22, 2009

I'm about 14 years short of being in your position, and about 17 years further than being in his. I think about this a lot, as my wife is very anti-intoxicants and I figure that if he gets in trouble, I'll wind up having to discipline this to mitigate an overly-disciplined approach I expect my wife would take. I know that I won't be able to say things like "I expirimented so you don't have to" because that's weak; I know I'll have to flat out lie to him. I suspect that by 15 he'll know that I'm lyig to him. He'll have the opportunity to throw it in my face, as I did with my father, but he'll at least learn something about discression. As cool a parent as you want to be, its still in your house and there are still consequences to his actions that now reach much much further than prior life lessons.

He needs to be grounded. He's asking to be grounded. He is defying rules which he knows exist. He's doing this for multiple reasons, which you probably remember from being his age at one point. This is his new cool toy. This is him making a decision to break the rules. He is asserting himself in the world. But he is also a minor, it is an illegal substance, and more than likely he doesn't have his own job which he's using to pay for this. This means that regardless of being a hypocrite, you've got serious leverage on this topic before you even pull out the parent card.

He's got a lot of time to make bad decisions, and those bad decisions he should save till college.

As an FYI: A bunch of the skater kids that I knew were shooting heroin at 11 because they were bored. Consider yourself very lucky that your son still knows a great deal about discresion and saying "No." Good luck.
posted by Nanukthedog at 7:08 PM on May 22, 2009

Why don't you want him to smoke pot? It just doesn't make sense.

Marijuana is not (yet) legal. Parents ought to be concerned for that reason alone.

That said, I smoked pot in high school. I got caught by my parents. All I got was an (ineffective) lecture, but pot was never my thing anyway. Here's what I would say:

"Smoking pot is not terrible for you, physically. It's not great for you either. The real problem is the fact that you can get in trouble for doing it, so can I. I don't want you smoking pot, mainly because I don't want you in trouble. But I realize I can't make this decision for you, and that you're old enough to regulate your own behavior and make smart decisons. You will not smoke pot or bring it into this house, and please don't be dumb enough to smoke pot in public again. Please don't put your friends' parents in jeopardy either by smoking at their houses. Other than that, use your head."
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:30 PM on May 22, 2009 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Tough! It would be "easier" if his grades were slipping instead of improving and he wasn't being a good citizen type. But it's not something that you can ignore or you'll be sending all sorts of wrong messages.

I echo the advice of being honest about the social and legal repercussions of getting caught. Way back when I was his age, I really appreciated honesty and most of the teachings that stuck for came from that perspective. Teenagers are pretty good at sniffing out bullshit and so when it's presented factually, it may make a difference.

I had a fiercely stubborn independent streak and didn't care about punishments (grounding never worked for me, ever), but I responded well when I really believed my mom when she told me how she felt about things. For example, when I got caught smoking cigarettes, she told me that she would be embarrassed if her friends saw me smoking in town (I'm from a small town where word gets around). So, the ground rules were no smoking in the house, the car, or in town along with a few others. To this day, I can't smoke in my home town and only smoke in my car if I'm on a long road trip. I know it's because I respected my mom enough to not want to embarrass her and, over time, it just stuck. Disappointing her I could deal with, that was always so vague. Embarrassing her was something I could understand and relate to (I hate feeling embarrassed). Of course, smoking pot is a bit different than smoking a camel light and it's certainly not something that you want to condone, no matter your personal use. But there might be something to that honest feelings approach. Of course, your son and I may have very different personalities and for it to work, it would have to be a feeling that he can empathize with.

Also, you might want to find ways to get him to take himself away from the more negative elements. Summer is coming up with loads of free time. Perhaps it would be good for him to get a job - he could probably use the money and have all sorts of wide-eyed goals of getting that thing most soon to be 16 year olds dream of. Encouraging that and other activities will be a good way to steer him away from opportunities where he could sit around getting high with his friends. Though, I'd keep this sort of encouragement separate from any discussions on drugs or punishments, or every suggestion or encouraging thought will be marked as you coming down on him and forcing him to do all this stupid crap.

None of that helps with any actual punishment though. I don't have a clue about that. There should be repercussions for his actions, but you also want him to be comfortable telling you things. What a difficult balance! I just don't know how parents do it.
posted by imbri at 8:19 PM on May 22, 2009

Best answer: Um, PBWK, how old are you, exactly? It used to (in the 70s) take a whole joint to get high.

I did some research on this years ago and was under the impression that a lot of the differences in the perceived "potency" of pot today was due to differences in strains (indica vs. sativa), which creates a palpably different experience. But it seems that there are plenty of High Times articles on the internet right now that say otherwise. Regardless, more potent pot means safer pot--not only does this mean that there are fewer carcinogens, but it also means that you can buy less/carry less and have the same experience.

And, yeah, pot's not good for adolescents. But everyone pretty much has acknowledged that the kid is going to smoke pot regardless. In light of that, the biggest safety issues are not in terms of potency (because he's not going to overdose) but in terms of engaging in risky behaviors while smoking/in order to smoke. That means, namely, driving, going to risky places/interacting with shady individuals in order to purchase pot, and smoking where you could be busted. If OP is really concerned with her son's safety, then those are the behaviors that need to be minimized.

I do not for a minute believe that he stopped smoking pot when he could get away with it

See, to me, this would be terrifying. Everyone I've ever known to get busted was busted in a public place or while driving. "When he could get away with it" often means that your kid is just sneaking pot in places and at times when it's especially not safe, legally, to do so--at parties, in public places where parents aren't watching, at someone's disapproving parents' home while the parents are out. If you're essentially communicating that "I don't want to catch you high", then you're essentially encouraging the kid to smoke where others can catch him while high.

It would be much safer to teach your kid to be discreet (which means smoking at home) and responsible (which means not selling/buying very, very carefully, and never, ever driving while stoned) than it is to maintain an elaborate ruse for the sake of continuing to appear as an "authority" figure. You're an occasional smoker; the wisdom that you could impart to your kid about responsibly and discreetly toking up is going to be far more valuable than teaching your kid to stay away from home while doing so.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:19 PM on May 22, 2009

Pot was never the thing when I was in high school, it was all about alcohol, and my mom made it clear that while she understood the lure of it, and while she was not uptight about it to the point where I was allowed to drink occasionally in her presence (holidays, family gatherings, and of course during the Super Bowl), she wasn't the least bit inclined to go up in front of a judge to explain why her daughter was caught at a kegger in the desert. So, since underaged drinking could always potentially get me in trouble, my first thought upon considering whether or not to drink was "How likely is this to get my mom in trouble?". The decision tree always started there.

I have never been so responsible about anything, before or since.

For what it's worth, though my kids are very young now, when the time comes I'd rather have them sneak a joint in their room than risk it elsewhere, just like my mom would rather have had me safely sneaking a beer at home than out in a vacant lot.
posted by padraigin at 8:54 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Well, I have heard that sometimes marijuana can come laced with cocaine or LSD. I don't know what those kids were doing in the 70s....

I think that you should absolutely have punishments for the kid. You should let him know what the legal ramifications are and how they can affect people around him namely his family and his friends and his friends' families. He should be punished because hanging around at a park and doing that in the open is acting like a fool and he can act like a fool in his own time.

I would also take some time to educate him about some other risks -- how he should never drink and drive or smoke pot or do any kind of drugs and drive or be in a car with anyone who has done those things. That he will call you and ask for help if he needs it and he will only be in "trouble" if he doesn't call.

But, you need to punish the kid. I'm thinking back to my days as a teenager and for sure did I need to get punished for some things I did! But, you sound like a very cool mom. Just remember that your job is to guide him as safely through this world as you can and that you are the parent not the buddy.

I helped my friends through some sketchy situations as a teenager and I wish I could have called my parents but I was always in trouble no matter what -- my Dad hit the roof over the tiniest stuff. So, just make sure that he knows that if he asks for help or a friend needs help that you'll be there. Just tell him that first and foremost he should not act a fool! And if his friends are being foolish that he can call you up and you'll go get him.
posted by amanda at 8:55 PM on May 22, 2009

Why don't you want him to smoke pot? It just doesn't make sense.

Presumably so he doesn't get arrested. I don't have kids but I certainly wouldn't want them get arrested.

There's also an issue of getting financial aide for college. You can't get some loans and scholarships if you have a drug conviction, although they no longer ask the question and don't check either. And most kids arrested would probably end up with a differed judgment unless they are dealing ounces.

The poster should talk to a local lawyer to find out exactly what would happen if he was caught with weed.
posted by delmoi at 9:11 PM on May 22, 2009

Well, I have heard that sometimes marijuana can come laced with cocaine or LSD. I don't know what those kids were doing in the 70s....

You can't smoke cocaine (unless it's been converted into crack), and it's almost impossible to even get LSD, which also can't be smoked.
posted by delmoi at 9:21 PM on May 22, 2009 [2 favorites]

My father told me when I was 17 that I if I was caught smoking pot I wouldn't be able to travel to certain countries because I would have a criminal record. It made me way more careful about smoking in a public place.

I think it's good advice as you're not the bad guy, the law is.
posted by fantasticninety at 9:30 PM on May 22, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I don't want him to smoke pot. He's going to smoke pot. To forbid him to smoke pot is inviting secrecy and lies. To allow him to smoke pot is endorsing dangerous, illegal activity.

As someone who left my teenage years behind a scant few weeks ago, I think the issue's somewhat more nuanced than this. It's important for you to make it clear to your son that regardless of how much you disapprove of him smoking pot, your primary concern is that he remain safe, both in physical and legal terms. In a teenage boy's mind, this should translate to "Huh, Mom might be pissed if I smoke up, but she'll be even MORE pissed/worried if I get hurt or arrested for it." Hopefully this knowledge would lead your son to feel comfortable calling you for a ride if he finds himself in a risky situation.

My mom's rather strict and never gave me similar assurances, which has led me to keep things from her that it might be prudent to discuss for my safety and health. For a teen, it's unquestionably valuable to be confident in these two things - that Mom cares about you above all things and that the fact that you engaged in risky behavior means less than her willingness to be on your side and help you avoid terrible consequences of your potentially stupid actions.
posted by Devika at 10:39 PM on May 22, 2009

You can't smoke cocaine (unless it's been converted into crack),

Yes you can. I've, um. Seen it done. By other people.

This isn't about you being a hypocrite. This is about you making and enforcing rules for your son to protect him, both from pot itself (which I think we've established isn't so great for adolescents) and from legal consequences of its use. Even if you think pot should be legal (and so do I, but I don't smoke it), it's not right now, and the legal consequences of your son's illicit use could be very detrimental. In the late '80s, a family member of mine was arrested with a pipe and a roach and was charged with intent to distribute. Fortunately, she was 14 and the court was lenient, and the record was expunged when she turned 18, but it could have been much worse, especially if she were caught with more than just the small amount she had.

Also, I pretty much love what nax said.
posted by bedhead at 10:48 PM on May 22, 2009

Best answer: maybe just stick to the facts? sit him down and tell him it like it is: "1. smoking regularly at your age will negatively affect you - it might very well negatively affect your mental development, and it will definitely make you more likely to be addicted through your adult years - which while not the end of the world, a pain in the ass. 2. you can get in pretty serious trouble over just getting caught with a little bit of pot, and very serious trouble if you deal. also, *i* can get in *serious* trouble if you deal out of my house, and if i catch you doing THAT, you're in big big BIG trouble. 3. i love you, and while i know lots of kids do, and personally i don't have a big moral issue with the stuff, i just don't think it's in your best interests for you to be smoking pot right now. accordingly, if i ever catch you doing it again, expect to be punished. save it for college. 4. it doesn't always, but it can lead to you doing other drugs, most of which are *serious* trouble. DO NOT EVER do heroin, coke, meth, etc, that stuff wil really really mess you up bad, bad, bad. if i catch you doing any of that, expect to be sent off to one of those tough love camps - a cheap one where they use corporal punishment. and don't hang out with the kids that do - they may seem cool now, but check up on them in 10 years and see what big fuckups they've become, trust me"

disclosure - i'm not a parent, so maybe i'm not being realistic here?
posted by messiahwannabe at 11:43 PM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

Inspector.Gadget nails it. His quote is almost word-by-word what I would say. Re-read that carefully: as an approach it's both reasonable and responsible. After all, what you say should have an effect on your son or else it's just to make you feel better. (Nothing wrong with that either, it's just different from what I gather you're after here.)
posted by Orchestra at 12:56 AM on May 23, 2009

You need to teach him to be smart about it. You can't be an enforcer, and you can't be "cool" about it. Pot is not OK for you, it has metal health, social and legal ramifications. If he's going to smoke it he's going to smoke it. Don't make a big deal out of it, keep a conversation alive, be aware that you will catch him red eyed again, and don't invade his privacy.
posted by mattoxic at 5:48 AM on May 23, 2009

There are a few legitimate concerns here:

1. As others mentioned, your son's brain is still developing.
2. Long-term cannabis use -- consistent long-term cannabis use -- is known to decrease motivation. (This is something I talked with my own doctor about, and though I certainly trust his opinion I haven't researched it on my own.)
3. All that stuff about "permanent records" really is important right now, as much as the myth of the permanent record is a joke. In a year and a half, he's going to be applying to colleges. If he gets busted, he may have a harder time. And, if I remember correctly, there are financial aid implications for kids who have gotten in trouble for illegal drug use.
4. Some employers do drug testing before they offer employment. Lots of employers do drug testing, actually.

So, from a purely pragmatic standpoint, your son is endangering himself in ways that, at fifteen, he really shouldn't be. Smoking up in a public park is stupid no matter how old you are, for example.

I'm not on the "ground him" bandwagon, or the "rules are rules" bandwagon, either. But I do think that you can reason with a teenager. You can at the very least warn him off smoking in public, or buying cannabis off sketchy guys, or whatever.

But if I were in your position, I think I'd make it clear that my primary concern was my son's welfare. He's made some poor choices recently, and he needs to think those over. You may not be able to get him to give up cannabis altogether, but you can give him the information he needs to make that decision.

Good luck!
posted by brina at 6:14 AM on May 23, 2009

Best answer: I think you need to set down clear rules, explain why, and then enforce those rules. The challenge is identifying what you believe the rules should be. Marijuana is illegal, and at your son's age, ultimately you as a parent are still held responsible for what he does. Nevertheless, you need to make the ultimate decision of what is okay and what is not okay. If smoking pot is not okay, then you need to state it in no uncertain terms. I would like to be able to qualify it more -- smoking pot in public is not okay, buying it is not okay, selling it is not okay -- but those sorts of qualifiers honestly make it a lot harder to establish the rules. Whatever you decide on, make it clear and enforce it.

As far as addressing it, do it spontaneously at a neutral time, not as a reaction to catching him. Even if you catch him, send him to bed, let it wear off, and then discuss in the morning. Whenever you discuss it, tell him the rules you've set, why, and then if he breaks them, you have to enforce the rules -- be it grounding him, cutting off allowance (fitting if he bought any), etc. Even though he knows you've done it, the discussion is about him, not you.

You mentioned being concerned about inviting secrecy and lies. Teenagers will always be secretive about some things, but what you can do is not give further reason for it. If you say smoking pot is not allowed and then started rummaging through his room, searching him when he comes home, etc., then he'll rebel, distance himself, and it'll be a step back. If you show that you trust him, you then have the upper hand. Have the discussion, lay down the rules, and leave it at that. If he wants to discuss in the future, he is welcome to. If he gets caught, he gets caught and there are consequences. But in the meantime, let him know the rules and then continue on as normal. Don't let yourself get caught up in enforcing things because it will only strain the relationship. He'll appreciate trust -- and if he breaks it, there's the ultimate reason for the punishment.
posted by davidnc at 6:16 AM on May 23, 2009

Link his bad behaviors to his good behaviors. If he's performing well, it's hard to be critical. Explain to him that it will be easy to be harsher if is good behavior waivers.

Explain that you're more willing to turn a blind eye to a B+ student who has a regular sport/language/musical interest with 2-3x regular pursuit. And that he doesn't get caught.

Drop below the B+, stop going to sport, then consequences get multiplied.
posted by filmgeek at 8:01 AM on May 23, 2009

Best answer: Dubitable has it right.

I smoked pot when I was a teenager. I drank too. My parent's didn't forbid these activities by actively seeking to thwart them, though they certainly didn't condone them. Coming back at night, I wouldn't be checked for red eyes or alchohol on my breath. I didn't have a curfew, though I was expected to let my parents know if I was going to be out late. I was never to get in a car with a drunk or intoxicated driver; and repeatedly assured by my father that he would, without consequence, pick me up if I was otherwise stranded. I made use o this service one time in High School.

What they did do was get me to think. As Dubitable said, they "came from a place of love and respectful guidance." From an early point, I realized that while drinking and smoking could be fun, they could also be (a) legal trouble (b) lead to poor decisions and (c) be dangerous in overuse. It could be a good way to relax with my friends; if I did it too often, it could also be a good way for me to throw my grades down the tubes. As stated, I realized that these were complicated issues, not black and white.

It wasn't till college that I read Aristotle, who urges moderation in all things. I think he gets it right, and I think my parents steered me in this direction by helping me to think critically about my actions and their consequences. It worked: I turned out well.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 8:14 AM on May 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

I don' have an opinion - my kid is only 6 so I have no experience in this - but I just wanted to chime in to say you sound like a thoughtful, reasonable, compassionate parent. Good work!
posted by serazin at 12:02 PM on May 23, 2009

I'd like to chime in by pointing out, at least in my personal experience, this behavior may be as much about finding a sense of personal and social identity as it is anything else. This is a very important part of your son's development at this point in his life, and, as he's already chosen a social group that places unusually high importance on the ritual of pot-smoking, I urge you to think of this behavior in terms of Pandora's Box being already open; you won't be able to stop him, you shouldn't expect him to stop, and in some ways forcing him to stop entirely will be detrimental to him (inasmuch as you would have to break nearly all of his social connections to do so).

In other words, it's more important to let him know how you feel about this than it is to steer him through this minefield, something he'll have to do for himself. (But do bear in mind that declaring prohibition of this activity is an important part of letting him know how you feel, and more importantly engendering the sense that he's got a responsible and caring parent backing him up in life).

Everyone's had great advice on what to talk with him about, but I haven't noticed the topic of addiction yet. There's a salient idea in pot-smoking culture that getting high with extreme frequency is normal or okay. Be sure to help your son understand that getting high several times a week or even every day probably isn't healthy, even if his peers are doing it, and that he won't ever feel "addicted," even if he is, and maybe give him some clearly-defined warning signs that he is that he can watch for, etc. And please stress the importance of keeping up those positive things that he is doing! Reading your [more inside] section, I was deeply impressed by the good things you described about your son--I was a surly, selfish piece of poo at 15 :).

Background info: I'm a 27-year-old guy who started smoking pot at 15 and quit around 20 or 22. I was not as well-balanced as your kid--from my perspective you have nearly nothing to worry about no matter how you handle the situation.
posted by olaguera at 3:36 PM on May 23, 2009

posted by LC at 7:18 PM on May 23, 2009

He's a good kid with good grades and it sounds like you have a good relationship. As long as it stays that way, the only issue is that he's smoking in public and could get busted. Assuming you're in a jurisdiction where that is a risk, that's the area I'd focus on when you're talking to him.

I don't think you need to worry about the safety/quality of the pot btw...
posted by glider at 7:00 AM on May 24, 2009

I think it's silly that people are calling you hypocritical. Is it hypocritical for parents who drink occasionally to forbid their 15 year olds to do so? All laws aside, you can just handle some things more maturely when you're older. I strongly feel that pot is one of them.

This is purely anecdotal, but here it is anyway. I had a very good friend who started smoking pot in high school. He dropped out of college after one semester. I didn't smoke it for the first time until I had been in college for a while. I finished college, went on to grad school, and I'm applying to medical school in a month. Again, totally anecdotal, but just based on the people I've known for the past 10 or so years of my life, it seems like pot is much less harmful the later you start. I don't believe that it's really very physically harmful but I absolutely believe it can rob younger adults of their motivation. So although he may be doing well in school now . . . what if his grades do start to slip? Then what? I think it's easier to prevent it than stop it. I didn't do it at all in high school because I was terrified that my parents would kill me. I know some might disagree, but I think that's okay. It was certainly an effective way to deter me from doing things, and I'm glad for it now. I don't think it's wrong to be as harsh as necessary in order to stop him. I also think he is better off not knowing that you did/ still do smoke pot. Now that I'm older and know more about pot, I am certain that my dad probably smoked it when he was younger. Would it have been beneficial for me to have known this when I was a teenager? NO EFFING WAY. All that would have done was made me think it was OK, because he turned out OK, right? But I'm infinitely glad I didn't start any younger. There is just no need for it. I really feel like smoking pot can serve one of two purposes- it can either numb your brain from the pressure of having to DO SOMETHING, or it can be a nice treat AFTER working hard and DOING SOMETHING. IMHO, teenagers don't benefit from the first and haven't yet earned the second. I'd do whatever it takes to discourage him from it now. I'd buy one of those Walgreens home drug tests and tell him you have it and he never knows when you might decide to use it. This might be out of line if you had no reason to suspect that he was doing it, but he's admitted it. So I think it's your responsibility to do what you can to stop him from doing it at least until he's 18.

I'm 26 and never smoked pot until I was out from under my parents' roof. I think this is the best way it could have happened. I grew up in a house where not everything was my damn business- you don't owe it to your son to tell him about your habits. My parents didn't tell me everything and I'm glad. Kids don't need to be your equals, they need you to guide them, firmly at times. Best of luck to you.
posted by lblair at 8:25 PM on May 24, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you so much, everyone, for your thoughts & advice. We had company over the 3-day weekend so I had time to really consider things before talking with M about it. So when we did sit down to talk, it was a good start to what promises to be a years-long tug-of-war between freedom and responsibility.

I started by asking him what he had to say, and what he thought I should do. He said he was sorry, and that he wouldn't do it again, and that he expected to be grounded for a couple of weeks. I asked him whether he was sorry he did it or sorry he got caught, and whether he really meant it that he wouldn't do it again. (It was a circular exchange that reminded me of the parole-board scene in Raising Arizona.) He thought about it for a while and finally said he was sorry he'd gotten caught and that he'd made me feel bad, and that he couldn't promise he wouldn't do it again.

A little aside here ... in 4th grade M went through the DARE program at school. He was taught that a single beer or cigarette was equivalent to injecting heroin into his bloodstream. Zero tolerance meant that if you had a glass of wine with dinner you were on the road to perdition. He saw the hypocrisy in it because kids would raise their hands and say things like "but my dad has a beer with dinner!" and the deputies just repeated what they'd already said. At the end of the program the kids sign a pledge to never drink, never smoke, and never do drugs. M didn't sign. He said he didn't want to do those things, and he didn't think he ever would, but that he couldn't make a promise in 4th grade about what he'd do or not do in high school or college.

So I can understand that he can't promise he won't do it again. Just like when he was a kid, I appreciate his honesty. But at the same time, I can't permit him to smoke pot. So it was time for the lecture. You cannot smoke pot, M, I said. I will not allow it. It doesn't matter how I feel about it as a legal matter. The two problems I have with it are (1) that it's illegal and the consequences are serious for you and for me, and (2) that you are 15 and exercising pretty crummy judgment. I explained to him some of the things that could happen to him (job & school prospects) and to me (financial & legal problems) if he were to get in trouble --- it hadn't occurred to him that I could get in trouble for something he did. He still doesn't agree with me that he exercised poor judgment in getting high where/when he did, which kind of leaves me at a strange point --- how to emphasize the need for discretion when it's something I don't want him doing in the first place!

In the end I didn't ground him. I think what's needed here is guidance more than punishment. Unlike his little brother, who plays tennis & sings in the school chorus, M's extracurricular activities are self-guided and unchaperoned. There is a lot of unstructured "hanging out" time. So that's over. I'm not sure yet how the summer will work out, but it will involve a summer job, a reading list, and a lot more time spent with mom. More than likely I'll have him come to work with me a couple of days a week with a book and a pad of paper. (My younger son will be in summer school for an AP geometry class.)

When thinking about all of this, I had to admit to myself that I had slacked off with oversight. We moved to this city last summer, and both boys eased into their new lives almost seamlessly. I wanted them to feel somewhat independent and free to move around and get comfortable in their new hometown, and they have. But I let it slide too far, and I got lazy. Parenting isn't difficult, but it's a sustained effort, and I haven't put much effort into parenting my kids this year. I need to get back on my game.

So he's not grounded, but he's going to be helping me with dinner more, and he'll start joining the dog and me on our day-hikes on local trails. And although he's not going to be sleeping over at friends' houses for a long time, I will force myself to sit down across the dining-room table from him and learn to play Yu-Gi-Oh. Because he's asked me to play Yu-Gi-Oh with him a thousand times and I think it's just about the stupidest thing on the planet so I've always said no. But I don't want him smoking pot, and I really believe that the best hope I have of getting him onto a more positive path is to make it a path he wants to travel on.

Thanks again to everyone who posted here and who MeFi-mailed me. This isn't over, so I'm definitely open to additional comments/criticism/advice.
posted by headnsouth at 12:27 PM on May 26, 2009 [4 favorites]

Nice work, headnsouth. Sounds like you have a good kid, too.
posted by amanda at 1:31 PM on May 26, 2009

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