As parents, how should we respond to a teenager who argues that the recreational use of pot is socially acceptable, that the authorities aren't concerned about it anymore, and that it's on the verge of being legalized. We know he's been using marijuana, but when we confronted him about it he flatly refused to stop. We're not sure what to do next. Can you help?
Sadly, there's a sense in which your teen is right: talk in the media about "medical marijuana" and lax attitudes toward pot in the culture at large have created a situation in which there are fewer and fewer consequences for the use of this drug. Even if your son were legally charged with possession and use of marijuana, there's a good chance that the courts wouldn't do anything about it. Increasingly, concerned parents like yourselves are left without a shred of support in the outside world.
None of this changes the fact that cannabis is a mind-altering and addictive drug. Consequences such as legal fines, jail time, and social disapproval may have dropped off the radar, but your son's physical and mental health is still being compromised by his use of marijuana. The drug has already distorted his thought processes, and the harmful effects will only increase with time. We would encourage you to emphasize this side of the issue when discussing your concerns with your teen. If you've noticed recent changes in his personality, you can strengthen your case by describing these behavioral shifts in specific terms. You can also direct him to a website like that of the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) where he can see images of "the brain on pot" and access basic facts about the short- and long-term effects of marijuana on the central nervous system.
If you're a Christian family, there's also an important spiritual and emotional aspect that you will also want to bring to his attention. We're not talking about beating him over the head with the Bible or laying down the law in a series of "Thou shalt not" statements – an approach which is almost certain to prove counterproductive. Instead, we're suggesting that you spend some time as a family exploring your teen's reasons for turning to a mind-numbing substance like marijuana. Ask questions about the deeper motivations behind this behavior. What else is going on in his personal life or in the life of your family that may be driving him to anesthetize his mind? Is he in emotional pain or under a great deal of stress? Do you have a troubled marriage? Has he been disappointed in love or discouraged in the classroom? Are there other sources of conflict at school or in the home?
You may also find it helpful to remember the words of Ephesians 5:18: "Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit." In this passage Scripture presents us with a choice. It's not a question of Pharisaical rules and regulations, but rather of influences and control. Ask your son which is better: to open his mind to the potentially dehumanizing effects of a chemical substance, or to find himself within the context of a relationship with a loving heavenly Father.
Once you've been over this ground in detail, don't hesitate to state your principles and draw a line in the sand. Let your teen know that, as long as he is living with you, there can be no question of your allowing him to use marijuana. Tell him clearly and plainly that the permissive attitudes of society have nothing to do with the standards governing your home. Set firm and consistent boundaries, and don't be afraid to enforce them by imposing some swift and powerful consequences – for example, the loss of cell phone or driving privileges.
If he refuses to cooperate, we suggest that you seek professional counseling, and we highly recommend that you do this together as a family . The most successful treatment programs take a family systems approach that involves intensive evaluation and a series of counseling sessions offered in an environment of community and accountability. If this doesn't work, you might opt to break the negative pattern by sending your teen to live with a relative in another city or enrolling him in a residential drug treatment program. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to programs of this nature or a list of qualified therapists in your area who specialize in treating drug addiction. Don't hesitate to contact our Counseling department.
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