Have you ever smoked pot, mommy?

The time may come when our children will ask us about our experience with drugs.
And when they do, many of us who have experimented with or abused drugs will look like deer caught in headlights.

I was no exception. Although I anticipated the question would one day come up, nevertheless, I was uncomfortable answering it. So when my teenage son asked me: “Have you ever smoked pot, Mommy?” I stammered:
“ Ah! Yes, but it’s complicated. Why are you asking? Are there any drugs around you? Are your friends smoking pot?”

I was hearing myself nervously answering a question with a series of questions.
Upon regaining my composure, I realized that my son must have been as self-conscious about asking the question as I apparently was about answering it.

The question needed to be treated with respect. It was not necessary to tell everything, but it was necessary I did not lie.

In my answer to my son, I told him that I did smoke pot, but I was very careful with him not to glorify the experience. I tried to describe the experience with honesty and relate what we know about drugs today that we didn’t know back then when I was young – which I used to explain some of the dumb decisions I had made.

In particular, I explained how much more we know today about the neurobiology of the teenage brain and the risks of experimenting with drugs and alcohol. I offered that scientists used to think that the brain was relatively mature by 16 or 18, when in fact today we know that it is still developing into the mid-20s.

What does develop early is the pleasure-seeking area of the brain. However, the regions of the brain that involve abstract thinking, decision-making and judgment are still maturing. Therefore, drugs and alcohol abused in adolescence will lead to permanent changes in the way the brain works.

It may not be a question parents want to be asked but it’s a larger conversation that as parents we need to encourage in order to keep the lines of communication open.

Many parents will struggle with ‘”should I tell them– or not?”, fearing that if they’re forthcoming, they will lose the moral high ground with their children by having the admission thrown back in their face someday.

There’s also the fear that no matter how carefully honest and open you are about your own experience with drugs, you may be offering your child an implicit lesson about the lack of consequences, kind of like “my mother did it and
she’s fine”. However, there is enough evidence to suggest that when parents provide honest information and better role modeling, their children’s risk of substance abuse goes down.