Teens live in a confusing world when it comes to marijuana. Pot is more readily available than ever. Many celebrities and athletes, people that your child may look up to, have come to publicly support marijuana use. Plus, medical marijuana has been legalized in many states. No wonder so many teens now consider pot as a real option. It’s a way to self-medicate and blow off some steam in (what seems to be) a harmless way. The reality is, these teens are confused about marijuana.
Many of the teens who come to Heartlight struggle with marijuana, even thought that is not the main reason they are here. When I ask the age they started experimenting with drugs or alcohol, teens usually report it was in the 7th or 8th grade, and some as early as the 5th grade. Most say they were introduced to drugs when staying overnight at a friend’s home, attending an overnight youth event, or spending time at their friend’s house after school when their parents were not home. Others were introduced to drugs when attending parties … usually parties where older teens are present and parents are absent, distracted, or just do not care.
When I talk to teens about pot, I hear often “It should be legal, Mark.” But I usually ignore that statement. Even if I was to agree with the legal argument, it’s been shown that people who regularly smoke pot lose motivation, are more lethargic, and distance themselves from other people. That bothers me. At a time when teens need both motivation and people in their lives, marijuana use takes those things away.
There’s obviously a difference between experimenting with pot and being addicted to harder drugs. However, experimentation is no less dangerous. The kids who use pot get caught up in a world where taking drugs is “normal,” and they often begin to experiment with other drugs as well. We hear stories every day about people who died trying a new drug for the first time. And some drugs are so addictive, that what was intended as a one-time toke leads to a lifetime of addiction. Sadly, more than a million teenagers go into substance abuse treatment programs each year. And just like alcoholics, many of them will struggle with that addiction throughout their entire life. That’s why it is far better for parents to prevent kids from experimenting with drugs early on, before they get a foothold.
What I want you to know is that drugs are not the problem. Marijuana only masks the real issue lying under the surface. Too often moms and dads think that the way to get their kids to quit smoking pot is to simply tell them to stop. But that will not uncover the motivation behind the drug use or help you understand why they feel the need to self-medicate. With all the anxiety and pressures of our culture, I can understand why teens use pot. I’m not saying that smoking marijuana is okay. You’ll never find me writing or saying that. What I am saying is that it’s crucial to find out why your teen has made the choice to use drugs. Is your daughter trying to drown out emotional pain? Is there something in your son’s life he’s having trouble expressing? Ask your teen, “What are you struggling with? Is there anything you’re having trouble talking about? What would have to change in your life for you to feel normal right now? Drug use is a symptom of deeper issues that we need to identify and deal with.
You may not understand the reason your child has chosen drug use as their way to “cope” with some giant in their life, but that’s another matter altogether. And because it is inconceivable that your kids would ever do such a thing, you may fail to consider it, discuss it with them or give them a drug test to find out. I’ve found that parents with kids in Christian schools are the least likely to admit their teen has a problem. After all, they are in a “safe” environment, right? Wrong! Kids that have come to our program with drug issues tell me that drug use is more prevalent in the Christian schools they have attended than in public schools.
Since drug use may be the cause of behavioral issues, all the behavioral counseling in the world will have little positive effect until the drug use is stopped and the lingering effects of the drug are out of the teenager’s system. Depending on the drug that was used, the after-effects can last several months. That’s why at Heartlight, we require that kids with known drug dependencies first go through a separate addiction treatment program before coming to Heartlight. We cannot deal with their inner issues until the drug issues are taken care of. Likewise, don’t attempt to get counseling for your teen until the drugs are out of their system. It’s a waste of time and money. The best plan is to let the two therapies work in coordination, ensuring that the ongoing support of a Narcotics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery program continues in tandem with your teen’s counseling for emotional and behavioral issues.
If you know your teen is trying to quit smoking pot, I recommend that every few weeks, unannounced, you drug test your teen. Make it a prerequisite for using the car. Hold them accountable to the results, just as a court would hold them accountable if they were on probation. Test them even when they squeal in protest or appear disappointed that you don’t trust them. Easy-to-use home drug and alcohol test kits can be bought in almost any drug store and can be used for regular monitoring. And when you test them, stay in the room. Don’t trust them to give you a valid sample. If they are getting caught up in that culture, they’ll know ways to get around the test and they’ll have no trouble lying to you about it.
Overall, your teenager needs to know you will do everything in your parental power to keep drugs from becoming a part of their history, even if it means putting them in an addiction treatment program or reporting them to the authorities and landing them in jail. Better a few days in juvenile detention and some time on probation where they’ll get tested regularly, than a lifetime in the grip of drugs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Gregston is an author, speaker, radio host, and the founder and director of Heartlight, a residential counseling center for struggling teens located in Longview, Texas. He has been married to his wife, Jan, for 40 years, has two kids, and 4 grandkids. He lives in Longview, Texas with the Heartlight staff, 60 high school kids, 25 horses, his dog, Stitch, 2 llamas, and a prized donkey named Toy. His past involvement as a youth pastor, Young Life area director, and living with over 2,700 teens, has prepared Mark to share his insights and wisdom about parenting pre-teens and adolescents.
You can find out more about Heartlight at www.HeartlightMinistries.org. You can also call Heartlight directly at (903) 668-2173.
For more information and helpful resources for moms and dads, check out our Parenting Today’s Teens website at www.ParentingTodaysTeens.org. It’s filled with ideas and tools to help you become a more effective parent. Here you will also find a station near you where you can listen to the Parenting Today’s Teens radio broadcast, or download the podcast of the most recent programs.