Our barely 15-year-old daughter has always assured us that she has no interest in smoking pot or drinking. She is a star soccer player and a very good student. We believed she was smarter than her friends, who she told us a few months ago are regularly using pot and alcohol. When I found things for smoking pot in her room, she confessed to using it once or twice and says she didn't like it. Should we punish her? Believe her?
Marijuana and alcohol are so much a part of today's culture that unless you are raising your children in a cave, they're going to have countless opportunities to try them both. Here are my thoughts:
Trust your instincts. Parents often complain about being the last to know when their child turns out to be struggling in some way, but we often pick up warning signs, only to ignore them because we want to believe that everything's okay. If your intuition is nudging you with a feeling that your daughter isn't doing well, pay attention. A youngster can be excelling in sports or academics and still be leaning heavily on substances. Then again, the majority of kids trying pot or alcohol will not develop a serious dependance on them.
Make it safe for your daughter to tell you the truth. She needs to know that she can come to you for guidance as she navigates the complexities of social relationships in which getting high or buzzed are an integral part of hanging out.I f you become angry or highly reactive when you discover she's done something you don't like -- punishing her severely, or refusing to let her see her friends -- she may take her experimentation underground, becoming more skillful at hiding evidence of smoking or drinking. Invite her to talk honestly about her experience smoking marijuana and don't interrupt, scold or lecture. "Did you really not like it or were you saying that so we wouldn't get mad? What did it feel like? Have you been having a tough time lately? Did smoking make you feel less anxious?"
Pay attention to who she is spending most of her time with. I don't recommend that you control your daughter's friendships; she may only find forbidden friends more interesting. But if she feels you are an ally rather than someone she has to sneak around, she may be receptive to your input about how it feels to spend time with kids you think may be floundering. The more you help your daughter check in with herself about how she feels about complicated social issues, the less peer-influenced she'll be as she gets older.
Ask her to listen to your concerns. If you avoid judging or shaming her for experimenting with pot, she may be open to you sharing your worries. You might explain that sometimes kids end up relying on substances to manage life stresses, like friend issues or academic pressures. Let her know that you understand the temptation to feel less tense or inhibited and that you hope she'll come to you for support, rather than turning to a temporary fix to repress unpleasant feelings.
Be a parent, not a pal. Some parents take a radical approach to the pot/alcohol issue, saying to their kids, "If you're going to drink or smoke weed, just do it under our roof." I strongly disagree with the mixed messages this sends. Long-term use that feels sanctioned by mom and dad is not in a fifteen year old's best interest. Don't be afraid to be the loving, confident Captain of the ship in this situation, helping your daughter deal with the challenges of adolescence without developing a dependance on substances to get her through the day.
Susan Stiffelman is the author of Parenting Without Power Struggles: Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids While Staying Cool, Calm and Connected and the brand new Parenting with Presence: Practices for Raising Conscious, Confident, Caring Kids (An Eckhart Tolle Edition). She is a family therapist, parent coach and internationally recognized speaker on all subjects related to children, teens and parenting.
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