We live in Colorado, where pot is now visible on every corner. For my teenagers, seeing someone smoking pot is as now as commonplace as seeing someone smoking cigarettes; it’s viewed as a harmless pastime. But it isn’t harmless, and I don’t want my kids to be enticed by drugs. My husband and I have even considered moving to another state. How am I supposed to keep my kids from becoming pot-heads when they are surrounded by them?
The problem is: moving to another state won’t prevent your kids from being surrounded by those temptations – or any others. Pot is easy enough to find anywhere.
So the question you’re really asking is: how do we as parents get our kids to recognize for themselves that drug use is dangerous and something to avoid at all costs? More broadly, how do we instill discernment and values in our children on any issue—especially when those values go against everything they are seeing in our culture?
As the mom of a 12 and 15 year old, I’m asking those questions too.
But I’ve also asked those questions of several thousand teenagers in the research, so let me share what they have said. And by the way, since I’m not a specialist in the drug-use arena, let me urge you: if you suspect a child already has a problem, consult a specialist right away! But from the “prevention” side of things, here’s what the teens told me about all this.
First, teenagers are very aware that no matter what you might say, they can figure out how to do whatever they decide to do. And this is sobering, but two-thirds said they would go ahead and do it, even if they knew their parents would disapprove. (The exceptions, interestingly, were those teens for whom a strong faith was more a part of their life. For example, two-thirds of those attending private protestant Christian schools said they would stop themselves if they knew their parents wouldn’t approve.)
Even when the choice deals with drugs, their decision isn’t really about the drugs. It is about freedom. So to help them handle the temptation of drugs (or anything else), you have to help them handle freedom.
See, most teenagers are absolutely driven by a quest to run their own lives, make their own decisions, be friends with whom they want, eat what they want, stay up as late as they want, drive where they want at the speed they want… and decide for themselves whether drugs are something they want. In other words: the freedom to do what they want to do.
Ironically, for a teenager, the feeling of freedom actually functions like a drug! It is intoxicating. It is addictive. They want more and more of it and will do almost anything to avoid losing it. The difference, of course, is that unlike an actual drug, the quest for freedom ultimately is a healthy one; something we have to help our kids learn how to handle well.
Which leads to the second thing the teens told me: despite their straining for freedom… they know that they are not ready to fully have it yet. On the anonymous survey, 77% of teens said they secretly want a parent to enforce boundaries. They want to know what is morally important to their parents and the family.
But at this age they also want to be brought into the conversation about those things. For example, to have a say in how those rules work and are enforced; some parents even work with their kids to come up with appropriate consequences for infractions.
Above all, the kids said they wanted to be able to be open with their parents while they are exploring what they think about those things they’ve always been told – and if they could, they were far more likely to accept it for themselves.
So talk to your teens about the dangers of drug use and consequences that accompany it. Have clear rules that you enforce. But to help them think through their beliefs about drug use or any other issue…. you’ll need to let them! Which means you’ll need to allow them to spout off about their evolving thoughts, without shutting them down.
For example, if they start to say “Maybe drugs should be legal; I mean pot isn’t much worse than cigarettes!” Don’t freak out. Calmly listen, acknowledge, and share your own beliefs. “I hear you. And lots of people do think that. But here’s why we disagree. Cigarettes don’t seem to be a gateway to other hard drug use, do they? Pot is much more likely to lead to hard drug use down the road. What do you think about that?”
Your teens are likely asking a lot of questions on these subjects and seeking guidance from friends and outsiders. But you want them to be talking to you. In the long run, your efforts to engage as they process their beliefs will do far more for them than moving to another state ever could.
Do you want Shaunti to share these life-changing truths at your church or event? Inquire about Shaunti speaking, here.
Shaunti Feldhahn is the best-selling author of eye-opening, research-based books about men, women and teens, including For Women Only, For Men Only, and For Parents Only. A Harvard-trained social researcher and popular speaker, her ﬁndings are regularly featured in media as diverse as The Today Show, Focus on the Family, and the New York Times. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.