I caught my 13-year-old smoking pot on Easter evening under our backyard deck.
I had gone to bed and told him to come right up and kiss me goodnight. I thought he was in the kitchen getting a snack. After hearing some coughing below my bedroom window, I looked outside while brushing my teeth and saw his bare legs and a lighter, nothing else. And I knew.
He has always been a cautious kid. He likes to be in control of his environment. A few years ago while trying to master a jump on a ski trail, he took a hard fall. He got up and continued skiing, but he hasn’t taken a jump since. He tells me he’s afraid of breaking bones, cutting his head open, or losing some teeth. “I don’t need do all that fancy stuff. It’s not worth it to me,” he says.
And because he is the way he is, and also highly responsible, an honor student, and never has cash on him, I didn’t think I would be confronting this issue at this point in our lives.
I was wrong.
I’ve done everything we are told to do as parents when it comes to drugs and our children. I’ve talked with him about the risk of using drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes since he was a young child. I tell him I love him every day, multiple times a day. I try to get into his brain and discuss his feelings and experiences about girls, his friends, and teachers. I am present. We have open lines of communication in our home, and my children know that I am a safe space.
I am not a smoker myself, but I don’t judge by any means. If you want to smoke pot, it’s your damn right as far as I’m concerned, and I want you to have the ability to do so. If you need it for medical reasons or it helps you manage your anxiety, even better. I have a very liberal attitude about pot-smoking and voted to legalize it for recreational use in our state. I still support it, but I just can’t take a liberal stance on it when it comes to my 13-year-old son.
And I’m not sorry for that.
Seeing my firstborn, a young teen, high as a fucking kite, did not make me feel like the “you do you” advocate I have always been. Watching him stand there and lecture me with bloodshot eyes about how “It’s just a plant, Mom,” and “It’s not a big deal — it’s like medicine,” and how he knows that there are studies that show how safe it is, that it is being legalized across the U.S. because it’s not harmful, makes me realize this freedom to be able to light up and have it be legal comes with a great responsibility.
We need to be careful with our dialogue when it comes to this subject. We need to remind teenagers that they are too damn young to be experimenting, and legal or not, this needs to be reiterated often.
I realize kids have been experimenting since the dawn of time, and they will continue to do so. I know that my son isn’t a delinquent, and this doesn’t have any negative bearing on his future outcome. But that doesn’t mean that it is okay, or normal, or healthy for him to assume that toking up is okay.
I understand that it is my job to parent my kids, and to watch over them and guide the narrative around these things. But I also know they are taking away the messages they want to hear on the subject: how natural it is and how it is so much better than any other drug they could choose. That they can’t overdose, and they won’t get violent or out of control. It’s not that I disagree — I don’t — but I think we also need to be aware that legalizing marijuana may lead to kids trying it at a younger age and to be mindful of that when discussing the topic (politically and socially).
My son told me this was the second or third time he had done it.
I will also tell you that while he was looking at me with half-closed eyes and I was trying to keep my shit pulled together and listen to him and not cry out, “No, no, not my baby,” he said this, “I feel like this helps me. I like the way it makes me feel, but I also feel like maybe I am ruining my life.” He showed me where his stash was, the pipe, the lighter, the prescription pill bottle full of weed (that he scored from a classmate). It was like he wanted to explore this path, but also wanted a way out at the same time. Teenagers are not able to process how they truly feel about decisions like this. Their minds are literally not ready. I’ve never seen my son so unsure of himself.
I grabbed him and hugged him tight, and thanked him for his honesty and being willing to hear me out too. Like everything else, I told him we would move through this together.
While he showered, I threw all of his stinky clothes in the laundry and waited for him in his room. When he came in, I told him that while I was grateful for his honesty and I didn’t hold a grudge, his actions were entirely inappropriate for a 13-year-old child. Then I laid out his monthlong punishment of no friends, phone, or social media of any kind. He was to spend the rest of spring vacation working alongside his father.
I know he is angry at me for this, but I know he loves me for it too.
From where I sit, I see a 13-year-old experimenting with a drug he knows nothing about. Maybe he would have tried it regardless of society’s casual attitude about pot these days. But the fact is, it is a drug. It has harmful effects on growing kids. And my son felt validated by the stuff he has been hearing about it being used as medicine and the fact that it’s natural and easy to access. I am not blaming anyone (other than myself), and I have not reversed my thinking about marijuana legalization, but I do think we need to be far more cautious when we deliver the “good news” about pot to our children. Because the “good news” is meant for adults, not developing teens.
I have no idea if I am handling this right, and I know there are many people out there who think I’m overreacting. There are others who think I haven’t done enough. That’s fine. I just want to tell you mother to mother, parent to parent, our kids are listening to the casual attitudes many of us (including myself) carry about smoking marijuana, and we need to be having conversations about it, now more than ever.