Straight Talk Advice

Mar 25, 2014

Mom afraid to confront son over possible drug use

Dear Straight Talk: My son, 16, recently started working a restaurant swing shift on Friday nights and weekends. The problem is he comes home looking out of sorts. I don't smell alcohol, but he looks strange in the eyes, not like himself. My mother's intuition says it's drugs — so many kids and even parents smoke pot today. But I'm too timid to ask him! Plus wouldn't he just deny it? Disciplining him hasn't been an issue till now. I'm not strong emotionally and he's a foot taller than me. Please help. —Timid Mom, Monterey County, Calif.

Gregg 22, Los Angeles Ask me a question

I agree your son is using drugs. Asking him is your best first move. When I first started using pot, my mother wasn't bold either, but she did have a nose for it and put a voice to it. I knew she knew. She eventually joined forces with my dad and got me help.

Ashley 25, Auburn, Calif. Ask me a question

Trust your instincts. My mom always knew when I was up to something and she ALWAYS called me out on it. I hated it, but I'm glad for it. Are you going to just let him sit in your house high? If you don't let him know this isn't okay, what's next? You could end up supporting a bad (or deadly) habit — and once he's 18, your hands are really tied. Stop being timid. This is your son, not some random person! You are his authority figure, show him that.

Moriah 17, Rutland, Vt. Ask me a question

Bring it up NOW. If we think parents are oblivious, we think we're getting away with things. If we know they know, even if we don't confess, it affects our decisions.

Brandon 21, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

Marijuana is like alcohol. Some adults are creative savants after a couple beers, others need a hard slap or it takes over their lives. When you see a red flag, you must act — and sooner is better. Despite his size, do you have reason to fear him? If not, give him the news straight. Some parents take their kids to see drug offenders in jail. Others take privileges away. As much as it tests you to do something drastic, you must not be an enabler.

Molly 22, Berkeley, Calif. Ask me a question

It's absolutely acceptable to drug test your child if he or she shows signs of being very much not themselves. That said, first tell him, calmly, that you've noticed behavior changes. Many parents get overly emotional and we interpret their upset as “unsafe to share.” Approach him with “Are you okay? How can I help you?” Be open and listen. Is he depressed? Did a girl reject him?

Ryann 17, Tustin, Calif. Ask me a question

The “normalization” of drug use is so alarming! Pot is proven to reduce IQ in the developing brain. Your own emotional fragility cannot hold you back from stepping up. Take him and go see a counselor. Or have a friend help you talk to him. This is your job!

Dear Timid Mom: Read carefully: Each panelist says something important and accurate. I agree that your son is using drugs — many teens get introduced at their first jobs. The “off” look behind the eye is a red flag. Adolescent pot use is harmful, and indeed lowers IQ. Even if you weren't timid, it takes a village. Get unified help from his father, family, or friends. Fact: Boys respond best to loss of privileges (not including sports or school). Something like, “Look, son. Drug use? Not on my watch. Period. If it continues, your driving privileges/this job/video games/etc., are over.” Explain that you'll use drug testing to separate fact from fiction if the behavior continues. Then follow through accordingly.

Editor's Note: My advice to all teens. You want to be smart when you're older? You want more chances of having your shit together? Then keep your brain clean till at least 19.

While hardcore "white" drugs like meth, coke, and ecstasy are known to be harmful to ANY brain at ANY age, a long-term New Zealand study showed that regular pot smoking before age 18, resulted in a permanent 8-point drop in IQ. This is huge! This is YOU, a person of average intelligence, dropping from 50th percentile in intelligence to 29th!

The study started at age 13 with 1000 kids, before anybody smoked pot, and went to age 38. Those who WAITED until after 18 to start smoking pot had no drop in intelligence. We wrote more about this study in our column of SEP 19, 2012.

PARENTS: Your kids need YOU to say "no" to drugs. Nearly ALL young people support drug testing for cause. (Don't believe me? See our column on it HERE.) Drug testing is a highly-effective "truth serum" if used correctly and all sides benefit from the clarity. For good, inexpensive drug-test kits and home breathalyzers, I refer parents to Recovery Happens at http://recoveryhappens.com. Their website has a great video on how to use kits properly so kids can't cheat the test.

Drug testing also gives kids a face-saving excuse for not using: "My parents suck and they drug test me. I'll lose my driving privileges (or other highly-prized activity) if I smoke/use with you." Now, instead of a guy looking totally uncool for turning down drugs, they respect him for having it so tough at home. He remains cool while keeping his brain clean. Girls will even get comments like, "I wish my parents cared that much."

Boys versus Girls: Knowing you'll lose significant IQ from smoking pot will cause a lot of girls to take pause. Unfortunately, most boys are much more thrill- and sensation-seeking than girls and actually find the risk exciting. Fortunately, boys also respond to clear-cut punitive measures, such as taking away of privileges. Such clear-cut measures actually light up another part of their brain. They LIKE this kind of clear authority, with less chitchat about feelings. And it's needed. That said, school or sport teams are NOT the thing to take away (through suspensions or being cut). School and sports help a boy. You want to take away the other things like driving privileges, video games, special events, etc. 

Not that girls don't need strong authority, too. ALL teens need to hear the 'no' word and not have their parent acting like a "friend." That said, the main reason girls use drugs isn't the thrill of risk, it's low self-esteem, stress, and depression. They respond to reason and safety more, and their brains are lit-up by a warmer, fuzzier, let's talk-about-feelings kind of authority which includes things like being forced to call you from the home phone of where ever they are. (If a boy had to do that, he would be mocked horribly.) And NO, 'warm and fuzzy' does not include sharing your own drug use! (For your son either.) This only undermines your authority. Save these conversations until she (or your son) is 40!

For more on the different approaches to take with boys versus girls, Dr. Leonard Sax has written the best resource I know of on the subject in his book, "Why Gender Matters." I can't recommend it enough to parents. —Lauren

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  1. By Warren, age 25, from Nahsville, Mich. on 03/25/2014

    While it may be hard, you are going to have to “step up”. When you get a good chance just talk with him, see how work and life is going, what his friends are like and what they do.

    Communication is key for everyone, especially here. Next time he seems out of sorts talk to him again and see whats going on. If after that you are still seriously concerned I think you should ask him out right (when he seems “normal”)  if he is using any sort of drugs.

    You should not be intimidated by your son. If things don’t feel right after talking with him ask him to take an at home drug test. Depending on how all these things went would determine the sort of “discipline” you would want to use.

    Try to be understanding yet firm. You are his mother and deserve respect.

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  2. By S.J., age 16, from Redding, CA on 03/27/2014

    My sister was showing similar signs around the time that she started hanging out with a new boyfriend who was a known drug user, so I was sure she was on some kind of drugs.  Our mom had recently become a single parent and was facing many of her own issues and paid little notice to our problems.  But since we shared a small room, she couldn’t very well hide the signs of drug use from me.  Due to the breakup of our parents, we had to move into an apartment and were sharing a room for the first time and were having lots of conflicts about it, but she was still my sister and I loved and cared about her, so I confronted her about it.  She said it was none of my business and she’d make me sorry if I told our mom, so I decided to let it be her problem.  Not too long after that,  she’d been in the bathroom way too long, so I knocked and asked if she was OK.  I got no response.  I don’t normally walk in on her in the bathroom, but I was really concerned so I went in and found her on the toilet totally passed out.  I was able to wake her up by throwing cold water on her face, but she was furious with me and told me again that I’d better not tell our mom.  However, I finally decided to tell our mom and she was furious with me since our mom forced her to break up with her boyfriend, but she also made her get the help she needs. She’s still mad at me which is hard when we have to live in the same room, but I know that I did the right thing and I believe that someday she will realize it too.

    Since you are the parent, you are in a better position to confront your son and make him get help.  You shouldn’t wait.  This will only get worse unless you do something, so you should act sooner rather than later.

    S.J.

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    1. By Gwen, age 17, from Carmichael, CA on 03/27/2014

      S.J.‘s comment again raises the “should I tell?” question that has been discussed many times in Straight Talk and elsewhere when someone knows that a sister or brother or friend has a serious problem be it drugs, alcohol, pills, anorexia, the choking game, or many other things.  Based on my experience, the answer is “yes.” I was both hooked on Adderral and was anorexic.  Our mom was oblivious.  But my sister whom I share a room with could see my body wasting away since she saw me naked every day, and also knew that I was so hyper from Adderral that I was hardly sleeping and also keeping her awake all night.  I also threatened her not to tell our mom.  But looking back, deep down, I really wanted to her tell our mom so she would make me get help since I was too ashamed to admit that I had a problem and needed help.  I was mad at my sister at first when she told, but now I am grateful since I got help before it was too late.  I now realize that she did it out of love and we now have become very close.

      Gwen

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      1. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 03/27/2014

        Gwen—Your letter is worth its weight in gold. Thank you for saying what only someone who’s been there can say. I guarantee your letter will convince many siblings and friends to take the painful but necessary step to get someone help before it’s too late. And you are correct, that it is unconscious pride and shame that keeps a person from seeking that help themselves.  Thank you SO MUCH for writing… and so glad you are better!—Love, Lauren

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        1. By J.V., age 16, from Fair Oaks, CA on 03/30/2014

          There is an alternative to having to tell your parents in this situation.  My older sister could see the signs of drug use in me even though our parents didn’t.  I begged her not to tell them and promised to stop.  She said she wouldn’t tell them if she could drug test me, but that if I tested positive she would tell them.  We’ve been sharing a room and the bathroom our whole lives, and have never had a problem doing bathroom functions in front of each other (both #1 and #2 if anyone is interested), so it didn’t bother me at all to pee in a cup in front of her.  The two of us being in the bathroom together was nothing unusual, so our parents had no idea that she was testing me.  Knowing that she would tell our parents if I tested positive was a huge incentive to stay clean and it worked!  Others in this situation should consider an alternative like this before telling their parents.

          J.V.

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    2. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 03/27/2014

      S.J.—You definitely did the right thing! And thank goodness. You are also correct that your sister will be grateful someday. Give her plenty of time and don’t be attached. You can sleep at night knowing you did the right thing regardless. —Love, Lauren

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  3. By Glenda, age 16, from Petaluma, CA on 03/28/2014

    I obviously have no way of knowing if Timid Mom’s son is on drugs or not, but many parents these days are getting too paranoid and “rushing to judgment” on this issue, including our mom and the moms of several of our friends.  Our cousin, our mom’s sister’s daughter, got in serious trouble with drugs, so she became paranoid that my sister and I might be on drugs even though it’s not true and there was no proof that we were using.  She said it was “better to be safe than sorry” and said that her sister had no idea that our cousin was using until the problem got really serious.

    She started searching our room when we weren’t there saying that we shouldn’t care if we had nothing to hide.  Well, we do care even though we have nothing to hide.  Much worse, she decided to start randomly home drug testomg us by making us pee in a cup while she stood there and watched.  She said there’s nothing to be embarrassed about since she’s our mom, and it would prove to her that we weren’t using drugs if that was true.  She also pointed out that we’re not modest about bathroom functions with each other and share the bathroom in the morning since we only have one bathroom and both have to get ready at the same time.  It’s true that we share the bathroom if we just have to take a pee (but not if we’re having a b.m.).  However, we don’t stand there and stare at each other.  Most of the time when we share the bathroom this way, one of us is in the shower or at the sink and mirror doing our hair or makeup or brushing our teeth and we don’t even look at the one on the toilet.  When you’re just taking a pee, there’s no bad smell and the only sound is water on water, so it’s no big deal to us since we’re sisters, and we actually see much more of each other when we undress in front of each other in our room than when we share the bathroom.  It’s totally different than having our mom stand there and watch pee into a cup, and we do find it very humiliating and embarrassing.

    If she had evidence of drug use, it would be different and testing us and searching our room would be valid, but we don’t think she has the right to do this without any proof, and some of our friends have experienced similar paranoia from their parents.

    Glenda

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    1. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 03/30/2014

      Glenda—I don’t support drug testing without cause either. While I have compassion for worried parents, and would never want to disempower them to follow their instincts, your description sounds over the top.

      Best practice for parents (you might want to share this with your mom as an alternative): sit down and have dinner together at least 3-4 times a week and have real conversations—give the kids their night to cook. Get to know your kid’s friends and their parents. Get media out of bedrooms and into a public living space, you’ll actually see your kids again. Spend a few minutes stopping by their room every night (no kid minds this… honestly) and use this as a time to have a few private moments of conversation, eg: “Everything went well today at school?” “You seem a little worried about that upcoming test/game/etc.” “Just know you can talk to me about anything.” And mean it.

      Hope this helps!—Love, Lauren

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  4. By Nedra, age 17, from Sacramento, CA on 03/28/2014

    My sister and I volunteered to have our mom drug test us with a home drug testing kit when she got worried that we might be doing drugs.  We knew that we were innocent and this was the only way to prove it for certain.  Like other sisters who have written, we pee in front of each other all the time (and sometimes even poop) since we have to share our only bathroom in the morning, so peeing in front of our mom was no big deal.  Since our tests were totally clean as we knew they would be, she was satisfied and stopped worrying and has never raised the issue again, so it was worth doing it this one time.

    Nedra

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    1. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 03/30/2014

      Nedra—Your comment is an example of how drug testing is a “truth serum” that can really benefit the teen. I know so many kids who LIKED being drug tested because then their parents believed them and backed off. It is really a drag to be telling the truth and have your parents not believe you. The drug test clarifies all that and then parents can relax. Thanks for telling it from the perspective of a clean teen who didn’t mind!—Love, Lauren

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  5. By Jim, age 17, from Arcadia, CA on 03/30/2014

    I agree that teenagers shouldn’t be drug tested unless there is a reasonable suspicion of drug use, but in Timid Mom’s case, there is a reasonable suspicion.  It should not be a problem to home drug test someone as long as the parent doing the testing is the same sex.  However, it certainly should not be done by a parent of the opposite sex.  It is unclear if your son’s father is in the home, but if so, he is obviously the one who should do it.  Even if not, if you are in reasonable communication with him over your son’s welfare you should discuss it with him and have him do it.  That is what was done in my case, and even though I was very angry at the time, since my test was “dirty” as I knew it would be, they forced me to get the help I needed and I now am grateful.  If his father is not available, perhaps there is another male relative or friend who could do it.  If not, there are drug testing labs where you can have a test done by a technician of the same sex.  It is expensive, but worth it if there is no other alternative.

    Jim

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    1. By LAUREN, from StraightTalkAdvice.org on 03/30/2014

      Jim—I’m with you. I also don’t support testing without cause…. AND in this case there IS cause. Thanks for pointing out the extra hurdle for opposite sex parents and children. Your solutions to this are spot on! Thanks for writing in with your own experience. So glad you got the help you needed! Love, Lauren

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  6. By David, age 60, from S. Utah, USA on 04/13/2014

    This is generalized nonsense.  I smoked pot in high school at 16 and college and graduated with honors with a GPA of 3.8 from one of the best engineering schools in the country.  So did most of my friends at school, both high school and college.  So do a large number of adults with good, including professional jobs.  In my opinion, this is a totally wrong approach, not to mention a completely unsuccessful strategy.  Kids that are smoking a reasonable amount of pot at a reasonable age should be taught moderation, responsibility and to do well in school.  This is unsuccessful advice, as far as stopping, and in my opinion is generally not necessary.  This is like the government Reefer Madness.  If you tell kids wrong information, why will they believe you with correct information.  These comments show that you have a biased (yes, I took a biostatistics class) unrealistic sample, both teenagers and adults.  If that is true, why will a broader group of people believe other advise.

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    1. By LAIREN, age Mom-at-Large, from Sebastopol, CA, USA on 04/13/2014

      David—I really appreciate your comment. Quite a few older adults (like you, at 60), who started smoking pot in high school, were top students who went on into brilliant careers. Unfortunately, many of you same adults think nothing has changed. But with all due respect (and I’m mean that sincerely), you are out of touch. If you still smoke, you KNOW how much stronger the pot is today than when you started. If you don’t, let me enlighten you. You could smoke an entire JOINT in 1970 and be less stoned that on ONE HIT today. And what TEEN takes only ONE hit? Plus most kids in the 1970s didn’t start smoking as young as today’s kids. Lots didn’t start smoking until 18. Starting at 16 was EARLY back then. Today, it’s common to start at 14! Do you know what the brain is doing at 14? It’s undergoing a complete pruning and regrowing. Imagine a cherry tree, or a rose bush, being completely pruned back and then let to regrow based on the nutrients available at that time. NOT good time to be using strong drugs. This is not “REEFER MADNESS.” The New Zealand study that I refer to is great science! They found that for people who started regular pot smoking AFTER 18, the brain didn’t show a drop in intelligence. But a regular habit before 18, resulted in a significant drop in IQ — that was, unfortunately, persistent into midlife. Again, here is the link: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2012/08/22/1206820109 .

      I’m not against pot for adults (when it’s used moderately and not in front of kids or teens), but I’m TOTALLY against pot for teens. It’s just too strong for a developing brain and we’ve got the science to back that up. — Love, Lauren :)

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