Please don’t send your stoner teenager to military school!

We were contacted recently by Major Momma, who runs a blog describing how she placed her sixteen year old son in military school last September because, as far as has been implied in her posts, she caught him smoking weed and being a grumpy teenager on his summer break. I have replied to her privately, but it also seemed somewhat important to comment publicly for the benefit of parents who may be considering similar measures.

This post is 'for her own good.'

Re:Vision Drug Policy Network  neither condemn nor condone the use of drugs – we recognise that some people do use drugs, and we seek to mitigate the harmful consequences that drugs and the laws which regulate them can have. We fundamentally disagree that imprisoning your children in a military academy is in any way an appropriate solution to any concerns you may have over their drug use.

The No. 1 thing that teenagers want – that they report, again and again, to researchers – is to have more control over their own lives. They’ve grown up with you deciding what they wear, who they talk to, and where they go. Now they have the ability to leave the house without telling you, they’re going to try that. Now they can stay up late and eat unhealthy food, they’ll probably give that a go. The most important thing that you can do as a parent is to accept that this is part of your child becoming an adult, and your duty is to act like an adult by not going berserk and assuming that you have lost your baby because they’ve stopped telling you every little detail of their lives.

So when it comes to drugs, and I can say this as someone considerably closer to my teen years than most of you reading this, if they’re available, many teenagers (30% of teenagers in the UK, actually) will do them out of curiosity. Health concerns are irrelevant when you think you are immortal. Legal niceties don’t matter when you’re bored. But if your teenager is using drugs, it is not the end of the world. Most teenagers will try a drug or two – alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, whatever –  and stop there. Maybe some will continue, but the fact that you found a lighter in their jeans pocket is certainly not the time to start freaking out about your child becoming a crack addict on the streets turning tricks to get by.

If you do discover your child has been using drugs, and you are against drug use, you have two choices: you can be angry, or you can be relaxed. If you decide anger is the best policy, you can spy on your child, and spy on their friends, looking for ‘signs’ of teen drug use (by the way, getting up late, shuffling non-verbally around the house and angsting about their self-identity is what many non-drug-using teens do most of the time anyway).  You could denounce their actions to your neighbours, and cart them off to military schools away from “bad” influences, and you could also totally destroy your entire relationship with them. We all make mistakes in our youth, but if you go down this road, the manner in which you have chosen to deal with your child’s problems is almost certain to obliterate any honest and open relationship you might have had in the future.

Surely gun use does more damage than drug use.

If your child is lying to you about their drug use, then they are going to continue to lie to you because you have made it clear what happens when they are honest – you go mad, you try to ruin their relationships with their friends, and then you tell all your neighbours about what a terrible person you think they’ve been! If your child feels that they cannot be open with you about their feelings, their activities and their drug use, then they’re not going to stop feeling, acting, or using – they’re just going to stop talking to you about them. Which means that if they’re one of the minority of teenagers who develop serious drug problems, you’re going to end up being the last person to know. And that would be awful.

Alternatively, you could try being relaxed about it. And ‘relaxed’ isn’t synonymous with letting your child do drugs. Drugs, legal and illegal, can mess people up. It’s ok to not want your kids to do anything harder than a McFlurry and it’s ok to let your kids know this. Teenagers are filled with hormones and a heady mixture of arrogance and low self-esteem. They love you, but they don’t want to need you. They want their own life but they want to know what you think of it. Giving your child the space to make their own choices is far more likely to result in them doing what you want them to than if you go all Momma Godzilla on them every time they come home stinking like an ashtray.

If you overreact, so will your child

The first page of the Google search for how to talk to your kids about drugs is filled with some of the dumbest advice I’ve ever heard. “If your child comes home smelling of alcohol, you should tell them in a quiet, unemotional voice that this is an extremely serious matter.” No. It isn’t. What they have done might well have been illegal (although 17 nations have no legal drinking age), but unless they rolled home unable to talk, using alcohol as a teenager is truly unremarkable. I did it, you almost certainly did it, there are teenagers probably doing it right now. Sketching out on your child now means you never see that side of them again, even if they’re struggling with substance abuse. I would be so much more worried if they were coming home every night drunk. Save your words for the twentieth time, not the first.

Or, “Watch a film which portrays drug use with your child, and then ask them if they know any people like those in the film.” Sure, organise some dedicated parent-child bonding time and then make it really awkward by blatantly prying into the lives of their friendship circle. But hey, it’s better than sending your child to military school! Seriously. If you find yourself engaging in elaborate plots to manipulate your child’s actions, please just put down the blueprints for a second and go and hang out with your teenager like a normal human being. They’ll like that, and maybe you’ll understand them a bit better.

 

Here’s some more realistic advice about how to talk to your kids about drugs, cherry-picked from the National Health Service:

4. Let them know your values and boundaries
It’s important for your children to know where you stand on drug taking. Be clear about your opinions on drugs so that they know your boundaries.

8. Let them know you’re always there for them
That way they can be honest with you about what they’re up to and they won’t just tell you what they think you want to hear.

9. Listen as well as talk
Talking to teenagers can be hard. When you’re discussing drugs, don’t preach or give a speech and don’t make assumptions about what they know or do. Let your child tell you about his or her experiences.

12. Be realistic
It’s common for teenagers to experiment with drugs. Remember that only a small proportion of those who experiment will develop a drug problem.

I am not writing this as a professional, but as someone who only comparatively recently stopped being a teenager and who still has an awesome mother whose response to all of my many faux pas was to hug me and say  ”Well, I trust you won’t do anything too stupid.”  And she was right, and I think I probably have a much better relationship with my mum than your child will with you if you don’t respect them. Your responsibility as a good parent is to hold their hand (when not in public) and help them when they stumble, not stunt their growth trying to stuff them into the mould of who you would like them to be. So please recognise your children as a human being equally as worthy of respect as yourself, and likely to make mistakes. And sometimes those mistakes will involve drugs, and that is ok.