Should I tell my teen that I smoked weed?
Most teens can figure out that their parents have — or do — smoke pot and drink alcohol. It would be hypocritical, Kit, to say, "Just say no" to them when we're out there getting wasted (I mean, de-stressing) ourselves. But just because you do it doesn't mean you should give permission to your kids to do so. Be honest with your teen — but do your homework first.
The prevailing research today on substance use and abuse focuses on teen brain development. The National Institute of Mental Health notes that the teen brain is still "under construction." Age-related changes in the brain shape how different parts of it are activated in response to experience, and in terms of behavior, these changes affect the urgency and intensity of emotional reactions (i.e., the roller-coaster.)
Regarding alcohol and other substances, there is evidence to suggest that the adolescent brain responds to alcohol differently than the adult brain, which is perhaps why so many teens and college students binge drink.
And a growing number of studies show that regular marijuana use — once a week or more — changes the structure of the teenage brain in areas dealing with memory and problem-solving. Smoking pot during high school can affect cognition and academic performance. Duh.
But in a 2014 federally sponsored survey, 60 percent of high school seniors said they think marijuana is safe, and 23 percent said they've used marijuana in the past month. Moreover, the marijuana they smoke is much more potent than it was in the 1970s, with far higher levels of THC.
So, back to your question. Yes, I think you should tell your teen you smoked pot. (And don't do a Bill Clinton, here, and say that you didn't inhale.) The context in which you tell him or her, though, will need to be steeped in your own family values. Here are a few tips:
• If two parents are involved in the teens' life, be on the same page. Talk together first.
• If you are still using pot or even regularly drinking a glass of wine with dinner, start the conversation there.
• Put the conversation into context. As noted above, pot today is very different than in the Seventies and Eighties.
• Ask about their friends. Is your son or daughter around pot and alcohol on the weekends? Before or after school? What has he or she tried already? How did it feel?
• Talk about teen brain development, and the long-term effects of doing things now versus doing them as an adult.
• Discuss their choices: Abstinence from drugs and alcohol, moderation, and partying, and the pros and cons of each. Talking things through out loud can help.
Each of us, and each of our kids, will make different decisions in different situations. Sometimes, we'll make good decisions and sometimes, we won't. As a parent, you'll have to keep your lines of communication open. You'll also have to start from a place of trust, knowing that your teen's brain is wired for risk-taking and emotional roller-coasters. Take a deep breath.
And no matter what, have your kids' back. Let them know they can call you if they're too wasted to drive, or if a friend is sick at a party. Be that parent. All teens need at least one trusted adult in their lives.