Q: Our 17-year-old has completely fallen apart! In less than a year, he has gone from being an outstanding honors student, athlete, and well-mannered young man that all of his teachers, coaches, and friends raved about to being a mediocre student making Bs and Cs and even an occasional D. He has decided that he has had enough of playing sports, and his attitude has deteriorated as well. He is often surly and disrespectful. We know he began smoking pot around the same time the downturn occurred, but he assures us that he is not doing that anymore. He says he is just tired of being “Mr. Goody Two-shoes.” We took his car away for a few weeks, but that had no effect. As he begins his junior year, we are concerned that he is trashing a lot of potential opportunities. We would be most appreciative of any advice you can give us.
A: I’ll eat my favorite Panama hat if your son is not still smoking marijuana on a regular basis. You are describing precisely the effects that pot has on motivation, attitude, and social behavior. Deception is another common feature of pot use, including denial that the addict is continuing to use the drug. The research on this issue strongly suggests that the use of marijuana has a very adverse effect on teens.
My observation, from years of experience, is that you are being very naïve, probably because your son has given you so few problems up to this point, and you want to believe that the present problems are nothing more than temporary glitches. That may be, but then again, this could be the beginning of a much more destructive decline. I’ve heard too many horror stories to recommend a “wait and see” approach to your problem at this point. You want to believe him, of course. I can understand that. However, in the course of doing so, you’re close to becoming your son’s enablers.
You did the right thing by taking away his car, but you blew it when you gave it back to him after only a few weeks. The two most likely reasons why that strategy didn’t have any effect are that (1) you didn’t take the car away long enough, and (2) he knows you’re too soft-hearted and easily manipulated to keep it away from him for too long. So he just waited out the punishment.
My recommendation is that you schedule him for a surprise drug test. Assuming that the test comes back positive, you should sit him down and tell him that (1) he will undergo random drug tests once every four weeks until he’s been clean for nine months, (2) he must begin seeing a drug counselor who specializes in working with teens, and (3) he will have no use of a car or cell phone until he’s been clean for five months, his grades come up, he’s back in at least one sport, and his attitude at home has improved dramatically.
In the small likelihood that the drug test comes back negative, sit him down and inform him of number 3 above: take his car and cell phone until he is back on track and stays there long enough for you to know that his improvement is not fleeting. Meanwhile, I would continue monthly drug testing.
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.