Sandy found a half-smoked joint in the pocket of her son Jack's jeans. She and her husband Leo talked about what to do. They knew if they reacted with anger, they would shut down communication and lose a timely chance to talk. They waited until Jack seemed in the mood to talk.
Leo laid the joint on the table and asked Jack if it belonged to him. At first Jack denied it. But Leo reminded him that lying often makes things worse. Then Jack told the truth.
He said he was curious about marijuana, and bought it at school. He said it was the first time he tried marijuana, and didn't like the stuff.
Sandy and Leo wanted to believe him, but weren't sure they could. Staying calm took effort, but they managed not to overreact. Sandy reminded Jack that if the police stopped him for any reason and found marijuana, he'd be arrested. Jack argued that he drives carefully. "I reminded him that another driver could hit him," Sandy said.
Sandy also reminded Jack that smoking marijuana could affect his health. "You are hurting your lungs," she said. "Smoking a joint does the damage of three cigarettes. You might think you have control when you are high, but you don't. Using a chemical makes you think differently. It affects your decisions."
Family communication expert Kim Miller, Ph.D. says that picking the right time to confront a child is key. "Leo and Sandy didn't react immediately. They waited until they were calm, and their child would listen."
Eventually, Jack could see that he had taken a big risk. He promised not to do it again.
Dr. Brian Johnson encourages parents in similar situations to reinforce their views about drugs rather than limit their warning to scare tactics. "Children don't respond to scare tactics," he says. "The point I hope parents reinforce is their concern about their children's values, the decisions they make, and how those decisions affect them in the long run."
Dr. Johnson wants parents to explain to their children that marijuana is an addictive drug. Using it again and again can create a craving and affect their actions. "Your reaction time is slowed," he says, "so it's dangerous to smoke marijuana and drive, just as if you were drinking alcohol. If you smoke marijuana before school - which many kids do - it will affect your ability to learn."
Today Jack's actions indicate that he doesn't use marijuana. Still, Leo and Sandy watch for chances to continue to reinforce their values about the use of marijuana and other drugs. They watch for stories about other kids - consequences of drug use to point to as examples. They set rules about drug use, and make sure Jack knows what will happen if he breaks those rules. They also tell him how much they love him.
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