Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pandora’s Box

Warning: Not a writing blog today… more a parenting, political parade. My daughter asked me my opinion on marijuana this weekend. She is 14 and I’m extremely glad she cares what I think, but MAN, what a quagmire. Anyone who knows anything about me knows I’m not a ‘forbid it, act righteous, site the law’ kind of gal. What you may NOT know, is there are reasons. UNDERLYING BELIEFS Unconditional prohibition: LEADS TO MAFIA. I kid you not. Alcohol during prohibition led to murders, violence, and an underground unprotected from criminal danger. Let me reiterate. IT DOESN’T WORK. I feel the same way about drugs. I am okay with regulation, tracking… heck, I think we ought to be taxing it. But societally, I don’t believe marijuana is any worse than alcohol. It just doesn’t have big corporations with eyes on some way to get rich off of it because it is too easy for people to grow it themselves, so the marijuana lobby is a bit of a joke. Preaching abstinence: Leads to Sarah Palin’s teenage daughter marrying some boy and thereby probably ruining her life forever because she got herself knocked up. IT DOESN’T WORK. I think trying to make an argument to kids about ‘never’ with scare tactics backfires, because then if they try it once (or their friends try it) and Armageddon doesn’t descend upon them, they no longer believe you have a valid point. And how many college freshmen die each year of alcohol poisoning, overdose, or doing something really stupid because they go NUTS away from home for the first time? Playing righteous: Sits wrong with me on so many levels. Not only have I not been a prissy, proper person, I’ve never even WANTED to be a good girl. Layer this with a belief that hypocrisy is the highest possible sin (and a belief that hypocrites typically get caught), and I just can’t pretend I’ve always been an innocent to my children. TOOL BOX I have worked in public health for over a decade, originally in tobacco prevention, but in an office that was also trying to reduce the spread of HIV. I am a researcher by training, and a believer in statistics. The most effective approach to both substances and sex is risk reduction. ACCEPT as a parent (or educator) that the vast majority of kids are going to try a variety of dangerous things, and arm them with the tools to not be stupid about it. HOW IT PLAYED OUT I said that honestly, marijuana combined the dangers of alcohol (or rather, intoxication) with those of smoking (lung damage/cancer risk) but that I didn’t believe it was much worse than alcohol use. That said, with BOTH marijuana and alcohol, people who used them could make really bad decisions, and were more likely to get in dangerous situations. So if she ever decided to do either of those things, she wanted to be only with people she really trusted, be in a place they weren’t going to be tempted to leave (especially in a car), and that she and her friends needed to have a pact not to abandon each other, because drunk or high girls could be very easily taken advantage of. I warned her getting caught doing it, whether by the law or via phone cam, like Michael Phelps, could lead to ineligibility for teams, scholarships, and possibly other experiences. It helped that we’d recently talked about what her college options might be, and I had made it clear that she’d have a lot more options in the presence of a scholarship. I told her I’d known some people who were daily marijuana users, and though they generally functioned (had jobs, friends) they had no motivation at all and their lives seemed to have sort of petered out. I confessed that I had used marijuana (probably most recently circa 1993) and it was never my drug of choice—it was fun a couple times, but usually, it was either nothing, or too much. For my physiology, it is a very thin line where it was an enjoyable experience. Clearly that isn’t true for everybody, or nobody would use it, but that was my experience. She admitted that she’d been offered marijuana, had friends who had tried it, and that the high school she begins in September had a bit of a reputation for it (the first two I had suspected and the last I knew). She asked what would happen to her if she used it, and I said most likely she would not be allowed to hang out with the friends she’d been with, but that any additional punishment would need to be negotiated with her dad involved, and that he was likely to be far more of a hardass, because he had pretty much voided his entire twenties getting caught up in a bunch of bad choices, and he wouldn’t want her to follow him on that path. She said she would talk to me, that it wasn’t currently appealing, but she would continue to tell me how things went, and I reiterated that the VERY most important thing was for her to be safe, and to help her friends be safe. I don’t think it went too badly, but I’d love to hear how others have addressed these hard issues with their teens.

3 comments:

Joris said...

I suppose I should now be in a good position to give an account of the other side of the discussion, coming from a teen living in a country where Marijuana is semi-legal, but seeing as neither alcohol, nor smoking had the least appeal to me, and weed seemed just a good way to combine the worst of both worlds, my parents never bothered...

That said, I do feel that we might be given a little more freedom in these matters by our parents, with alcohol (at least the weaker stuff) becoming legal to drink at 16, and various other things easily available and condoned. At least, I never got the idea from watching my peers that there were any that were under any parental control as to what they could and couldn't do. Of course, my closest friends generally agree with my views, so again, the view might well be skewed...

I do think you handled it well though, for what my opinion is worth ;)

Carnimire said...

When my kids are as old as Thing One is, I hope they come to me the way she did to you, and I hope I am able to manage the situation with the same maturity that you did.
Parenting is never easy, speciallly not if the kids are smart (as yours are), yet you are clearly doing a great job of it.

Salpo said...

As a health educator working at a big university in alcohol risk reduction, I think you handled this touchy subject very well with your daughter. I come across many parents who have their heads in the sand and say things like, "My daughter/son would never..."

Women put themselves at a higher risk than men in that they do not metabolize alcohol as efficiently and for the most part are smaller than their male counterparts. One of the things we talk to college students about is the fact that many females match guys drink for drink and thus put themselves in situations where they could be much more intoxicated than men. The disturbing trend on our campus and nationally is that females are drinking at much higher rates than ever before...

Any time we can reduce a person's harm when it comes to alcohol, we are taking a step in the right direction. Ultimately students are going to drink, my job is to make them aware of the possible consequences and leave the decision up to them.

I am currently pregnant with my first child (girl) due in October, and I hope that when the time comes to have this talk with her, I hope she feels comfortable coming to talk to me like your daughter. Keep the communication going!