“Weed”. That is what they call it now. I learned very quickly in my private practice that if I were going to talk with teenagers about their drug use, I had to stop saying “pot”. And “smoke” usually means smoke marijuana, where in my youth that meant actual cigarettes. I still feel funny when I hear the word weed roll off my tongue; I have to use my clinical judgment depending on the client and our relationship and weigh that against the silliness I sometimes feel talking like they do. Other words I have heard in my office I have adopted in my personal life. Awkward. Chill. Even FML. But weed… not so much. Perhaps that is because I don’t smoke it.
I subscribe to a magazine called “The Prevention Researcher”. They do special issues ranging from bullying to cutting/self harm. This month’s topic is about adolescents and substance abuse. We’ve all heard the statistics. Teen alcohol and drug use are not decreasing. Chicago Magazine published a survey last year and found that 63% of local area teens are concerned with the decision to try drugs or alcohol. Adolescents routinely say marijuana is easier to get than alcohol. It is rare to find a teen who hasn’t been offered an opportunity to smoke it.
As a community, do we pool resources into treatment or prevention? I struggle with the treatment issue often and was relieved to learn that a colleague with whom I consulted strongly believed what I have been practicing; that sending a teen to a 12-step program is not a quick fix. Instead, my approach with the teens who do smoke marijuana reflects my approach to therapy in general: encouraging self-reflection, asking questions like “What is it doing for you?” and “What are you escaping?” Some teens quickly realize that the answers to these questions are are not what they were hoping for and decide it is not for them. Others continue to use but hopefully with more thought behind it. I have often thought about how I would handle my own child who has questions about drug use, my history, and experimentation. After reading the research in TPR, I think I may change my tune.
Their research shows that parents have an incredible amount of influence over this behavior. Being a therapist, I am already positive that my family will have conversations about this. Some families never even get to step 1. Opening the door to discuss topics like this is crucial, and I have guided many parents through this step. Studies have been showing that it doesn’t stop there. Youth who felt that their parents strongly disapproved of their use were much less likely to use than youth who felt their parents would not be angry. Not surprising, they found that parenting that included parental supervision and monitoring and limiting time with peers who use also protected against early drinking/drug use.
Most interesting to me was that parents who clearly communicate no-tolerance for any use at all truly impact the age at which youth first experiment. In other words, saying “I expect you will experiment as I did” can be interpreted as “go ahead and try” whereas “We are a drug-free home and I will never condone drug use” and even going as far as signing a contract actually pays off.
I tell teens all the time that their parents will never give them “permission” to smoke marijuana because it is illegal, but there are many times parents will look the other way, especially as the teen gets older. Now I will go a step further and discuss what an impact looking has.