It may be one of the most puzzling, frustrating questions some parents have had to ask themselves in recent years. How is it that a seemingly happy youth with plenty of friends and adequate grades in school can sometimes be discovered to be dabbling with or regularly using marijuana? It is often a major shock not only to parents but siblings as well, knowing that a narcotic has quietly gained a presence within the family. This event can also be a significant landmark of the journey of the children growing up; the way the presence of marijuana is dealt with can be the start of stronger relationships in the family, or it can mark the beginning of distrust and growing alienation between a teen and his/her parents.

As a teen’s use of the drug becomes known in the family, it can really help everyone to at least understand some of the reasons it has begun in the first place. Without understanding its potential causes, it can be extremely difficult resolve this kind of situation in a healthy manner. First, it is critical to remember this truth about human beings: every behavior is purposeful. Let me repeat that: every behavior is purposeful. Nobody is going to begin use of something like a drug without a clear reason for doing so. These reasons can range from pressure from peers, a desire to reduce the various stresses experienced in life, to a desire to be fashionable and/or rebellious, and others.

When I am talking to youth or young adults about their drug use, it is never my role to critique their behavior, and “show them the light” about what it means to engage in a healthy lifestyle. This sort of top-down approach seldom works, and in fact often makes both parents and teens feel more at odds and unheard than before. Most parents can tell you that a sure way to start an argument with a child or teen is to give them an instruction, and when questioned why, providing an answer of “because I said so”. This can quickly burn bridges in a relationship, and increase the likelihood that future discussions about lifestyle choices become a source of anger and frustration for all involved.

The solution that I have found to work best is to have a conversation with the teen, where he/she feels respected to make an educated choice, and decide what choice is going to best reflect who they are and what they wish to create in their lives. However, this is not to say that any facts are either sugar-coated or over-vilified. It is important to help them understand the ways in which marijuana use is a reflection of who they wish to be, as well as ways in which it is not a reflection of their true self. Here are a few examples:

Pros: Relief from stress, fitting in with peers, feeling of being fashionable, part of a journey to find independence.

Cons: Problems with memory and learning, can lead to impaired driving, distorted perception, increase in anxiety, especially after drug’s effects have subsided, healthy relationships with family and friends can prove more difficult to maintain.

If a teen or young adult is clear that they wish to continue engaging in marijuana use, while being fully aware of its effects (both physical and psychological), then it is up to those around them, and particularly members of the family, to make a clear choice in how they wish to respond. Hopefully, a family will respond in a loving way, even if that means making tough choices, in order to maintain a safe and respectful household where everyone’s needs have the greatest likelihood to be met.