Teens Know Everything
Rob Danzman Says...
In the mental health/substance abuse world, we typically use a response approach rather than preventative approach (similar to the medical model). One of the 'tests' we use is asking the question 'Does this thought/feeling/behavior get in the way of a major life domain such as social, academic, career or intrapersonal'?
In this situation, your son sounds like a good kid that has clearly been brought up with a strong work ethic and healthy boundaries. That doesn't mean he is immune from screwing up and making bad choices. But you came very close to articulating the real problem - If (...and then how) to intervene if he's doing well across the board but engaging in an activity which is illegal (but increasingly accepted and legal in many states)?
First off - I definitely do not condone the use of illegal drugs, or any other illegal behavior. With that said, let's remove the idea/label of pot for a second and replace it with 'undesirable activity.' Why do this? To give us a bit of perspective since pot has loaded legal/ethical/etc. considerations that may distract us from the bigger questions. Let's be real, he's going to use pot whether you allow it or not. Instead of focusing on the pot use (not to say it's a good habit) I would recommend focusing on your relationship with him and the relationship he has with the family. I would also seek to understand why he is using. Again, just to be super real about this, people smoke pot for only a few reasons, most of which has to do with feeling chilled-out. If your son is a super achiever, he may be using as a form of anti-anxiety. It may be his way of counterbalancing his performance-obsessed lifestyle.
Take home message
1. Ignore the pot
2. Focus on relationship
3. Support him in avoiding/coping with achievement pressures
So when is it effective to draw a line? When it's a safety issue. Period. When it puts him at immediate risk like when he drives to a party, etc. I'd make it clear that you will not get into a power struggle with him but that he's not allowed to drive impaired, if he's going to be impaired or get into a vehicle with anyone else who is high. This is where consequences need to be swift, consistent and intense (ie. Loss of car privileges for 2 months). When safety is an issue it's time to not worry about how he feels.
Bottom line here is that you've raised a responsible young man who will continue to do well. Pot will make him feel good in the short term but likely become a speed bump as he gets older. Find that sweet spot between setting clear limits while also supporting him. I doubt he needs therapy. I doubt there are deep seeded issues. But it wouldn't be a bad idea to consult a professional if nothing else just to act as parent consultant and a fresh perspective. If you find the right therapist/counselor who can play it cool, he'll see them and likely reduce his use. We see it at our agency all the time.
Hope this helps.
Rob Danzman, MS, NCC, LPC
Page last updated Mar 13, 2014