12 year-old drug use
anonymous Asks ...
How worried should I be if I saw one of my 12 year old son’s good friends smoking a joint behind the mall? I was shocked to see this and I thought we had at least a couple more years before these kids would be exposed to drugs and alcohol. My son swears he has never done drugs and he says he didn’t know that his friend was using drugs. I have a feeling I am not getting the whole story. What should I do? I want to forbid my son to see this other boy, I want to make my son take a drug test, I want to yell at this boy’s parents – but everything seems wrong. I don’t know what to do to protect my son.
Rachel Starck Says ...
While it is shocking, as a professional in the field of both addictions and adolescent development, it is not unheard of for this age group to begin experimenting with drug and alcohol use. Take a deep breath, and try not to alienate your son, talk to him, help him to feel safe talking to you about what his friends are doing, pressures he may be feeling etc. The point is not to force him to confirm what you saw, but to open the door for conversations about the reality that he will come in contact with drugs, alcohol, and peer pressure, and then empower him to make healthy, safe decisions. I would not forbid the friendship, because he will likely rebel against that, see his friend anyway, and tell you even less about what is going on. Instead, I would influence when and where your son spends time with the friend, think about structure, (for example, invite the friend for a movie at your house, or offer to take them to a sporting event, rather then running around the mall without adult supervision, or hanging out at the park). I would avoid drug testing, for several reasons, the most salient being that by demanding he take a drug test, you are immediately telling him you have no trust in him, which is not helpful in setting the stage for open lines of honest communication. Also, drug testing is not always completely accurate, so he may test negative regardless of whether he has tried marijuana or not.
It is absolutely concerning, but as our children grow, we can not control what they do, what decisions they make or who they associate with. Better to validate his feelings, keep an open line of communication, be clear about your concerns, your boundaries, fears, legal boundaries, and help your son to make the best decisions he can about friends, drugs, alcohol, sex etc. And if he is not talking to you much, make sure he has access to other responsible healthy adults who will guide him in ways that line up with your values. A youth pastor, aunt, uncle, or counselor may be helpful in order to create a support network around him.
If you continue to feel upset and overwhelmed by this situation and potential future parenting challenges, get help for yourself. Seek out a professional counselor or therapist who works with teens and families, and has familiarity with drug and alcohol issues. This support will help you to navigate this chapter in your families life!
Rachel Starck, LPC