"Good people sometimes make bad decisions. They mess up, and they let others down. But that doesn't make them bad people. We all make mistakes." — Unknown Author.
If you asked me what the number one fear I have raising a teen - would be the fear of him getting into drugs. Because of this fear, I read up on all the articles on how to talk to our teens about it - 3-step, 5-step, 6-step (if it had 25,000 steps, I'd do it!), trust me I did all the steps and quite frankly, talking to him, I thought I had nothing to worry about. I thought I had it in the bag.
The funny thing is for his final year school project, he chose to highlight what drives youngsters towards drugs and its effects it has on not only their lives but the lives of people around them. He did the research, chose interviewees, coordinated the interviews, recorded everything, and the final product was a 30 min video showcasing experiences and thoughts of ex-addicts, counsellors and parents. Everyone was impressed with the video. He knew a lot without having touched that stuff!
Look - I'm not going to pretend that I'm a perfect mom raising a perfect son from a perfect planet. I KNOW that teens are experimental, especially the one that I have who likes to push the boundaries. I had to accept that he might/will try it sometime in the future so he needed to be aware of what's at stake, how it can escalate, and the effects on his life. He was always joking with me saying that after graduation, he might try it and we'd run through scenarios of how it would happen and how he can stay safe. I just didn't think it would be NOW.
Being the person that he is, his curiosity got the best of him and overrode whatever we discussed in the past.
Long story short, I caught him in the act of smoking weed. Getting caught in itself took both of us by surprise. Him that he'd get caught and me that I'd actually walk in on him.
Naturally, I felt all kinds of things, but surprisingly enough, what I wasn't feeling was mad. I was upset and disappointed, but at the same time, I was calm. I asked all the questions - why, where did he get it from, how many times has he had it, who else knows about it and he answered me outrightly. He knew I was upset because we had talked about this exact thing a million times before and he knew how I felt about it.
He explained that he wanted to try what he had heard so many people talk about - that feeling you get when you smoke it. It was the first time he was trying it, and I believe him, I do. It wasn't because of stresses of school or being held hostage in his own home for almost a year or not being able to interact with his friends physically. It was out of curiosity.
I'm not sure if I should be saying this, but quite frankly, a small part of me was relieved that it was pot, not heroin or cocaine or any of those party drugs.
We had spoken about it for some time, it was late, and I wanted both of us to have time to let everything sink in and mull over what had just happened. The next morning when I was in the kitchen, he came in, sat on the kitchen counter and we talked again. At the end of it, he apologised for disappointing me, told me that he regretted doing it and he'll not do it again, and gave me a hug. BUT he did mention that he can't promise me that when he's an adult, he won't smoke it. When my ears heard him say that, my brains were already working on a strategy of how to keep this boy substance-free. Would be almost impossible, I know.
You see, sometimes, we just need to accept the fact that our teens are going to make mistakes and make poor choices that will hurt and disappoint you. Disappoint seems to be such a big word which I've never had to use on my son but no other word comes to mind. But these poor choices does not make them bad people.
I knew the boy that gave my son what he was smoking, and he's a nice boy. A nice boy making bad choices over and over again. This is the same boy that I watched like a hawk. The same boy that I would tell my son to be careful with. The same boy who was having family problems that I felt sorry for. I'm assuming for him, smoking pot, was a way to escape. Which doesn't make it okay but explains it to a certain extent, but there are other choices you can make. Life if full choices - good, bad, ultimately it's your choice.
So how do you have another talk with your teen AFTER that initial talk that you had did not go exactly to plan?
Basically, you do it all over again with a few mindful adjustments. Here's what I did, at least.
Remember - he's still that child that you love with your whole heart.
To go into a conversation once your teen has made a bad decision, it is important that we remember who this person truly is.
I know this child. He's still the same kid. He is not a bad person, quite contrary - he's kind, spirited, funny and courageous through this phase of his life. As a teen, he is trying to negotiate through life the best way he knows how. Unlike us, they haven't been doing it for long. They still need you to guide them, nudge them into a better direction, and keep them out of harm's way.
Remember, your teen's bad decision is not the result of bad parenting.
We need to realise that despite our best efforts to raise our teens, sometimes, they lose their way and make poor choices. SO don't beat yourself up or question yourself - Did I not do enough for them? Did I not love them enough? Did I work too much? Did I do too much for them? Did I give them too much freedom? Was I too overbearing? Was I too nice? Was I too demanding? What did I do wrong??
Many parents spend the rest of their lives wondering where they went wrong when raising their kids - Don't!
It will be hard. I cried myself sleep after our talk that night. I scoured my brain looking for that one moment that I had made a mistake that would've led him to this moment. The thing is, do we always have to find someone to blame? The answer is NO.
What is important is to make sure your teen knows that you're there for them and that they are not alone in this.
Remember, it was ONE poor choice.
Treat the incident as it is - that one poor choice that your teen has made at that moment. Please do not make this discussion about ALL the poor choices that he has made in his life. It won't benefit anyone and will just be unproductive. You just want to focus on the matter at hand.
Remember, react calmly.
If you find out your child has tried drugs, your first reaction may be anger or panic. Truthfully, there's no point screaming words of anger and disappointment. It will only drive them away and make them clam-up. You'd want to be able to have an honest and open conversation. So as much as you want to vomit all these emotions and anger onto your teen, practice restraint and react calmly. If you find yourself so angry that you could combust into flames, wait until you're calm before discussing it with them, and show them love and concern rather than anger.
Just because you take the calm route doesn't mean you don't care or condone his behaviour, it just means that you're trying to offer a setting where the chances of them opening up to you will be better.
Remember, give them a chance to explain.
Sometimes, our emotions get the better of us as parents without even thinking, especially when you're already dealing with a lot as it is. Try not to start preaching. Allow them the opportunity to tell you about why it happened, how it happened.
You can ask, what's really going on so you can talk about it. But listen to them without judgement. Once you better understand why they came to the decision they did, you would better understand how to help them.
Sometimes, the cause is rooted deeper than what it appears to be, so listen carefully.
During my initial talk, I skipped the consequences of what would happen if he was caught doing it because, honestly, I did not believe that my son would actually do it at this point in his life. So in my case, this time around when I started discussing with him what the consequences should be and if I ever find out that he's doing it regularly or habitually, I would not hesitate to send him to rehab!
When we list down the consequences and expectations sooner, and it was discussed together, there will be no surprises about what will happen if they are caught. If our teens go ahead a do it anyway, it would be an informed decision on their part.
.....and lastly, keep a close eye
My son has never given me any real problems. At the back of my mind, I was confident that if he were suddenly thrown a situation where the opportunity presents itself, he would be able to make the right decision. In this instance, he made a poor decision. It wasn't peer pressure but out of his own curiosity.
When I caught him in the act, he was on the phone with a friend (a different one from the pot supplying "friend"!). I asked what they were talking about - his friend was on the line reading out what he was googling on what smoking pot does to the brain, its effects etc. Honestly, I don't even know what to make of it.
One thing that hurt as I was telling my son is that he betrayed my trust. I fully trusted him, and now he's sewn seeds of doubt in me. I know he fully understands what this meant - I'd be full-on interrogative and he'd have to live with it - and he fully accepted this and understood that he'd have to regain my trust to what it once was.
Like so many topics involving danger, having a one-time conversation with your teen just won’t cut it. It needs to be repeated. Not daily but every now and then, throughout high-school and college if necessary. After all, you are trying to help your teen make good life choices about drugs and substance use. But only they can say no to drugs. Make sure they know you support them, but it's up to them to make positive decisions.
The journey is yours, together.
** I must include a disclaimer that this post is from my own experience as a mom to a teenager and about first-time/experimental drug use. Any advice stated is not intended for consistent drug-use in which a different approach might be taken, and professional advice should be sought.