Saturday, December 17, 2022
HomeLifestyleCarolyn Hax: Parent craves support after busting teen for smoking pot

Carolyn Hax: Parent craves support after busting teen for smoking pot

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: So my 16-year-old son opted to smoke a joint at home this week late at night. I smelled it (because, duh) and confronted him and we took away his driving privileges for two weeks and also limited his screen time. It’s been a week from hell and our son is upset and so are we.

I knew raising teenagers would not be super easy but I had no idea it would be this lonely. I have a couple friends I knew would commiserate and offer support, but mostly we have kept this to ourselves. It feels like all we hear about from parent friends is the highlight reel and ACT scores, and sport achievements and cute girlfriends and maybe, “Oh he overslept for 10 minutes and it was total chaos.” It feels dangerous to walk up to them at the soccer field and say, “So we busted our kiddo smoking pot this week and we are freaked out and worried and, oh, how are you?” How do parents manage through this?

1. The “highlight reel” parents either know their kids are up to stuff but aren’t saying so out loud, or are so blinkered they’re not to be taken seriously as information sources, or have outlier kids so they aren’t helpful to you, or (rare cases) have tyrannized their kids into obedience. This is not to say all 16-year-olds are getting high, just that most are rebelling in some way because they’re wired to.

2. If you want your kids to be roiling units of stress made flesh, go stand on the sidelines and brag about their ACTs.

2a. I’m glad you found some parents to talk to. Don’t worry about the others, unless you’re ready to say, “Am I the only one here with discipline headaches? Please say no.”

3. What were you doing at age __? Remember this as you respond to anything your kids do. If you’re all lucky, you’ll have that awesome dawning moment that you did X times worse when you were Y years younger. Calibrate your fears and responses accordingly.

3a. What did your parents do when they busted you at age __? Did it work? Give your kid parents as good as yours, or better.

4. Experts are godsends. Pediatrician, therapist, veteran school counselor. Think credentials and years working with teenagers. The words of someone who has Seen It All are like putting cold toes in a hot tub. That’s where I learned the distinction between disapproving of something and actually stopping it. They’ll find ways, but you can be unequivocal about its being without your permission and against good judgment, and why.

5. Stay cool. Adolescents are roiling, and need you not to be.

6. Show your love. Always. Even when you’re angry and upset.

I’ll let others fill out your community:

  • A “couple of friends” (and maybe your therapist) is PLENTY. Teens deserve not to have their mistakes broadcast to every parent you know just so you can vent and bond.
  • My parents locked me down as a teenager because I was a girl, and might get knocked up or drunk, or grow as a human. I could not wait to leave home. I found ways to have “fun” and it was precisely the type they were trying to prevent. And when I left home, I went wild because I’d been so repressed. It’s not healthy to raise kids that way.
  • Confronting and taking away privileges all sounds completely punitive, with no apparent connection to the behavior. No discussion, no collaboration on house rules? I don’t see how any of that is going to persuade him to stop smoking.
  • Kids experiment and do dumb stuff. They need correction but don’t make it the end of the world.
  • The OP is expecting the other parents to talk openly about their kids’ struggles but isn’t willing to do so themselves. It’s not fair to complain that somebody else should go first to talk about heavier stuff.
  • I was a moderate rule-breaker and thank goodness there were no serious injuries involved. I would suggest saying why you are against your kid smoking, and back it up with evidence. Your kid is too old for “just say no,” which never worked, even in the ’80s.


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