ASK THE EXPERTS

What Should I Do About My Teen Using Pot?

By Joe Connolly, Consulting Educator

Question:

My son is 17. We have suspected him of using marijuana for a few months now and my older son has actually caught him doing it with his girlfriend. I was cleaning up his room today and found pot in his pocket. I am extremely worried about him and his future.

He is doing an apprentice program at this time as an electrician so he doesn't attend high school. But he gets his credit going to work and to a couple of night classes to further his electrical education. We have already sat him down and told him that he would lose the car if we found him with pot or any other drugs.

I just want to confront him without making him ruin his present career. He goes to work every day and has passed his first-step exam to progress in his schooling. I am so afraid for him to mess that up. He also needs to stay with his job in order to graduate from high school, which will be in May. Please help!

Answer:

You are dealing with an issue that many parents struggle with every day. Recent studies indicate that as many as 30% of high school students have used or are using marijuana, and almost 20% have tried drugs other than marijuana.

There are a variety of reasons why teens use drugs, including helping to relieve stress, to fit in with the crowd and because they see it as a fun thing to do. However, we also know that parents can make a difference in helping their teens stay off drugs and alcohol. Without knowing all the facts as to what is happening in your particular situation, I would like to make a few suggestions.

When you have evidence that your son is using, or you suspect he's using, share that with him. Often we think it's our duty to trick our children into telling us the truth, when in fact we're simply setting them up to lie to us. For instance, if you were to approach your son and say, "Have you been using marijuana lately?" There is a strong likelihood that he will say no. Even if you have evidence that he has been using it.

A much better way to handle the situation is to tell your son everything you know and then be quiet. In this case you would say, "When I was cleaning your room today I found pot in the pocket of your pants." That's it. That is all you say. Simply wait for his reply.

Most teens have a need to argue with us in an attempt to take us off topic. Don't fall for that trap. He might reply, "What were you doing in my room and going through my stuff? You have no right to be there." You should acknowledge that and then get right back to the topic. "Perhaps you're right. I should not have been looking in your pants pocket. I'm sorry for invading your privacy. Now please tell me about the pot."

As you are having this discussion, try to find out what's really going on. Keep in mind that if your son is afraid of your reaction you are less likely to get the truth from him. Keep your emotions in check and don't focus on punishment. You'll have plenty of time to figure out appropriate consequences later. Let him feel safe enough to talk with you. Keep your focus on helping him with this situation, not on punishing him.

Be careful not to judge him or your parenting skills, at this point. If he's using there are probably many reasons for this, only a few of which you might have control over.

Your end result should be to find a consequence that will help him to make better choices the next time he's faced with the situation of using drugs. Include him in that process. If you threaten to take the car away, or some other punishments how do you know that will be effective? He may be already thinking of other ways of transportation. Or maybe taking the car away will actually get in the way of helping him get to his job and thus completing his required work to get his diploma. My point is that you really want to think this through. Don't focus on punishment. Focus on helping him.

Lastly, if you believe your son is using on a regular basis I would suggest that you seek out professional counseling for him, you and your spouse. Drug use is serious, and it often requires professionals to help guide you along the way.

Joe Connolly is the author and creator of 3 STEPS to parenting teens and the One Minute Rule. One of the founders of Good Parents, Inc., Joe is a sought after speaker of family topics and is widely known for his expertise and powerful speaking on parenting. Joe has been a featured speaker at Stanford University's "Stressed Out Students" conference, the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, California State Senator Jackie Speier"s "Girls Day" and at corporations including Cisco, Hewlett-Packard and Genentech. Joe is the dean of students (K-5) at the Harker School in San Jose, CA. You can learn more about Joe and the services he provides at joeconnolly.org. Joe can be reached at joe@joeconnolly.org.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.