“Oh no!” you think to yourself, realizing you’ve just caught your kid smoking pot. This thought is quickly followed by the panic of, “What do I do?”
Messages from DARE programs years ago vaguely run through your mind while emotions of anger, sadness, guilt, etc., cloud your thinking. You always thought you knew what you would do in this situation, but you, of course, took for granted you’d never really have to face this.
But with the cultural normalization of marijuana usage, it is increasingly likely this is a conversation you will find yourself in. So before you freak out and ground your child for life, here are some points to touch on when you’re having this dreaded conversation with your teen:
• Empathize. Tell your child each person has their own individual struggles they must deal with, and it sounds like they are dealing with a lot right now. It could be school, friends and even parents. Some struggles are easier to handle than others. Some people use drugs or alcohol to cope, but there are better ways to do this. There are better ways to deal with the day to day, to just relax. Remind them you can help them with that.
• Encourage your teen to pay attention to what feelings they have before they use, and after they use. Are they feeling upset and anxious? Keeping a journal could be useful to do this. If there is a pattern, it can be easier to learn a new habit when that situation presents itself. Understanding triggers and making it a priority to make better, healthier choices is the first step in moving forward.
• Remind your teen about the reasons they should want to change this behavior. Tell them to think about when they have been successful and what hasn’t worked for them in the past. Make it clear that continuing to smoke is not going to work for them or the family, nor will it bring genuine positive feelings to their life.
• Emphasize how much you love your child and how you want to support them in being able to live a happy life. These moments do not have to define or control their life. They can simply be just part of their story that helps them grow, and choose a more positive path instead. Help them identify choices as things that are either helpful or harmful, but remind them that they don’t need to constantly punish themselves. It is what they do going forward that matters.
Make sure they know that you are ready and willing to do whatever is needed to support them. Remind your child that you love them unconditionally and will work with them to get through this. You can find additional information about how to handle teenage substance abuse at www.boystown.org.
Kyle Kinney is the Program Manager for the Nebraska Family Helpline. He has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Master of Science in Human Services-Counseling. He is a Licensed Mental Health Practitioner by trade, a husband by choice, and a father of four girls by fate.