Research by the American Psychological Association shows that frequent marijuana use can have a significant negative effect on the brains of teenagers and young adults, including cognitive decline, poor attention and memory, and decreased IQ. The APA deems once a week usage as regular cannabis use. What I want to focus on today is not the harmful effects of pot, or whether pot is a gateway drug, but instead on how parent’s past drug history can be a beneficial gateway to understanding their teenager.
I can remember when my kids were in high school them asking questions about my experience with alcohol and drugs, and I told them my stories when I thought they were mature enough to handle it. I didn’t do either in high school, and had a brief experience with pot my 1st semester in college. My good friend Frank and I took a walk around campus one night at the start of the second semester, ending up with a deep discussion on the steps of the law school library. We both had noticed that some of our friends who smoked a lot had such low grades first semester that it had already derailed their chances for a premed major. We decided together to stop using pot, which it wasn’t worth the risk of messing up our futures, and that was pretty much it for me.
Many parents are reluctant to discuss their past drug and alcohol history with their kids, worried that it might give them permission to use. That might be the motive for some teens asking such questions, and those kids aren’t ready for your stories. But I have found that most teenagers are really just looking for an adult’s perspective on such issues. I didn’t glorify, embellish, or make light of my experiences to seem cool, I just told them my truth.
What teens and young adults really want to know is that their parents are human, that they wrestled with some of the same issues that they are dealing with, and that their parents made mistakes and lived to see the light of day. Revealing your stories allows them to know that you really CAN relate to them and their struggles. Without it, they feel you just can’t understand them, making them reluctant to share with you. Your kids don’t need to hear every little detail of your past; just enough to know that you get them and their challenges.
Such conversations can become a gateway to a deeper level of trust and connection with your teenager, causing any vestiges of a generation gap to evaporate. It enables teens to feel safe to talk about their alcohol and pot experiences, and how some feel who haven’t tried pot. It opens them up to hearing their parent’s perspectives on drugs and alcohol, and also to information about the effects of pot on teenagers. Our openness creates the space for them to be more open, vulnerable, and real about their lives.
When your teenager has the maturity and readiness to hear about your past, use your stories as a gateway to deeper, two-way conversations about important issues facing them.