Parenting 101

July 2012

1.   My husband and I have always been open and honest with our three kids about substance abuse, including alcohol and marijuana.  However, with all the talk of decriminalization and/or medical marijuana, it is getting more difficult to “convince” them that using could take a heavy toll on their lives.  What can we say to maintain our position with credibility and not sound like we’re stuck in the past?

This is such a great question for the times.  It truly is more difficult today to stand behind an argument about the dangers of marijuana when currently marijuana use is riding the borderline of legality.  Decriminalization and medical usage have clouded the waters in our society’s discussion of Marijuana far more than necessary. Neither consideration changes the dangers that Marijuana use poses in the slightest. It is the same substance if it is decriminalized or not (which is not to say decriminalization is not an important issue, see RAND’s white paper on what would happen if it were legalized). Tobacco cigarettes are not criminalized, but do we doubt at all that they are very dangerous and unhealthy? It is also the same substance, with the same risks, whether it has medical use or not. Cocaine is used medically. Oxycontin is used medically. Valium is used medically. Would anyone advocate that this means that these substances are safe for recreational use? We do innumerable things in the name of helping sick people medically, that we would never want to subject a healthy person to (surgery, radiation etc.). The content and handling of the Compassionate Use Act (not the “free for all getting high is o.k.” act) has presented some serious problems. The people of California wanted to make it o.k. for sick and suffering people to have access to a medicine they previously did not (despite the fact that there is still significant debate in the medical community whether Marijuana is a best practice medication). The law was not intended to allow free use, though the way it was implemented and the way some profiteering doctors have handled it have made it defacto legal for those over 18, at least for now. The facts and the research on the effects of Marijuana do not change with legislation. There are plenty of articles you can find if you simply ‘Google’ “The dangers of today’s marijuana.” An example of what you would find is as follows: “The potency of THC, the mind-altering chemical in marijuana, has more than doubled in the last twenty years creating a greater risk for impairment and a far higher risk of addiction.” So, we suggest you find a number of credible articles, the best ones have scientific research to back up their facts.      Have another of your “open and honest” discussions and share both your fears and facts.  Marijuana has many, and sometimes more, of the toxic chemicals found in tobacco that collect in the body with each use.  Point out how common abuse and addiction are in both the adult and secondary school populations, which greatly disrupts and destroys individuals lives and the lives of their family members who love them. Good for you for taking this issue seriously and arming yourself with information!

2. I’m a single mom with one son who is 13.  I work to support us and can’t be with him all day long.  A couple of times I’ve come home and would swear I smell cigarette smoke in the apartment.  When I ask him he denies it but I’m not sure I believe him.  At what point do I stop trusting him and breach his privacy?

The general rule about breaching privacy is that it is done whenever there is any suspicion that involves potential dangers for your child.  You are at that point. If you smell cigarette smoke it is because it is there. It is your responsibility as a parent to make sure that your house is free from dangerous chemicals and that your 13 year old son is not starting an addiction that is devastating. The privacy he is entitled to is limited. Smelling cigarette smoke more than once in your apartment is sufficient enough to search his room and belongings when he is not at home.  If you don’t find anything, wait until the next incident and repeat your efforts.  I would smell the clothes he puts into the dirty clothes bin, and/or ask him for a kiss when he returns home from being with his friends to determine if his breath smells of tobacco use.

Tobacco is an extremely addictive drug for anyone, but the younger one is when they start, the greater the chances of addiction. His brain is still developing and very malleable, including in critical parts related to addiction.

Many cities now have agencies that have prevention programs for young smokers.  If you can locate some support systems, you may be able to get information that will help to educate your son, and/or possible cessation programs if you determine that he has been smoking.

Responses to the above parent questions have been provided by members of the South Bay Coalition whose expertise and experience lies in parenting, counseling, and/or substance abuse prevention.  The South Bay Coalition is a non-profit partnership of agencies working to prevent substance abuse among our community’s youth.  For local resources or more information, please visit our website www.thefutureiswatching.org or if you have questions you’d like our experts to respond to, contact: events@sbcoalition.com.