Dear Dr. G.,

I really need your help. I'm about to rip my hair out. I just found out that my 14 year old son who is a high school freshman has been smoking marijuana. His best friend's mom called me and said she found out that her son had been smoking. I think she found the marijuana. She said that she wanted to let me know because although he swore that my son wasn't involved she felt she needed to let me know in case. So my friend later confronted her son a second time. At first he said he tried it once and then, after much questioning,he admitted to smoking once or twice a week since the start of school with my son.

I come from a family of addicts so I am terrified that my son will end up like my brother who has achieved very little with his life due to drug addiction problems. I have shared family stories to scare my son and have also shown him studies about how marijuana negatively affects the developing brain. I have taken away my son's phone and his socializing privileges until I figure out a better solution. For now my son is basically grounded and, of course, he is not happy with me. By the way, my 14 year old son says that  he's stressed out by his difficult high school and says that marijuana helps  him relax. Can a 14 year old really be that stressed?

Please help!

A Scared Mom

Dear Mom,

Thank you for writing to me. I am happy to help you deal with your own stress and with your son's issues. Despite the fact that marijuana is being legalized in more states there continue to be questions about the long- term effects of marijuana on the developing brain. And,of course, there are concerns about marijuana use and the short-term effects of marijuana on judgement, memory and good decision-making. So, I can certainly understand your concerns about your teenage son's marijuana use.

There are other reasons for concern. You describe a family history of substance abuse and do not want your son to travel down the path of using substances to deal with emotions. That makes perfect sense to me given your son's self-report that marijuana helps him deal with stress. In response to your question about whether or not a 14 year old can be very stressed the answer is an unequivocal yes. Talk to your son about his school stress and how he can cope without the use of marijuana. Help him figure out other ways to unwind and relax that do not involve the use of substances. Perhaps he needs to incorporate some activities in his life that are calming and release endorphins such as exercise etc. Perhaps your son's school schedule is too intense and needs adjusting.

Keep in mind that your son and his friend are probably smoking twice as much as they are letting on to. The rule of thumb is to double the frequency and/or quantity of drug/alcohol use that individuals report. Those who use substances tend to under-report usage. In the future when you talk to your son about marijuana keep in mind that he is not your brother so that your son does not get the impression that you view him and your brother as one and the same. Learning about the studies about the effects of marijuana and about your family history may or may not be helpful for your son. Specifically, this may not impact his usage.

I must tell you that I am not a fan of taking away phone privileges and grounding. Instead, I prefer a more positive and privilege based plan which focuses on our teens earning what is meaningful to them.  This is simply a different way of thinking about things which may reduce the negativity level in the household. Your son may want to go on an overnight trip. Consider making this contingent on marijuana free behavior. Perhaps an allowance can also be tied to engaging in stress reducing behaviors that do not involve smoking marijuana.

Yes, there certainly are times when you may want to keep your child home. This, however, should be the exception not the rule. Regarding phone privileges-I am not a fan of taking away the phone. Our kids feel very isolated without their phones and isolation is not the feeling that we want to create.

If your son describes feeling increasingly depressed or becomes dependent on drugs to deal with emotions then you may want to consider having him speak to a therapist.

Good luck and please keep me in the loop.

Dr. G.

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