I have lost control of my teen son.
Dear Dr. G.,
I’m am completely losing it. A few months ago I found out my 17 year old son was smoking marijuana. I grounded him…no car, no phone. He swore to me that was it (yeah right ). Just recently I bought an at home drug test and asked him to take it just to ease my mind. He said he couldn’t. He lost his phone and his truck again. I am making him do any chore I can think of around the house.
Barbara Greenberg, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist who specializes in the treatment of adolescents and parents. She was the Director of an inpatient adolescent unit at a psychiatric hospital in New York for 21 years. She is now in full-time private practice in Fairfield County CT. She is also the Adolescent Consultant at Silver Hill Hospital in New Canaan CT.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
He sees nothing wrong with smoking. His buddies do it at home. He said that his friends’ parents would rather their kids do it there then somewhere else. I am at my wit’s end; I don’t know what to do. I have explained to him the problem he will have if or when he finds a job during his senior year and he doesn’t have a car.
A Distressed Mother
Thank you for reaching out for help for your son and for yourself. As you know so well-when a member of a family has a problem it affects the entire family. I am not sure who else is living in your home but if there is anyone else in the home I sure hope that you have their support.
As I see it, you have 2 major problems here. You have a son who has developed a problematic habit and you have a deteriorating relationship with your son. Clearly, the trust with your son has been lost and the relationship is full of frustrating conflicts, yes? I am so sorry. I am going to do my best to help guide you.
I am not sure how frequently your son is smoking marijuana and/or how it is impacting his performance in a variety of arenas in his life but I am quite sure that his functioning is problematic given your high level of concern. And, your son’s apparent lack of concern about how his behavior is affecting his relationship with his mother is very worrisome.
It is clear that your son is not responsive to consequences despite your repeated efforts to tie marijuana smoking to consequences. Additionally, he is holding up his friends’ parents as models of how you should behave. You are not permissive like his friends’ parents and that is your right and perhaps even your responsibility. Permissive parenting is certainly not ideal in any way. Do not get swayed by your son’s arguments about his friends’ parents allowing them to smoke marijuana in the home. In your home you make the rules.
I have a very serious concern about what is motivating your son’s marijuana use. Is he trying to numb himself from feeling uncomfortable feelings? Is he trying to alleviate anxietyor depression symptoms? When did he start smoking marijuana? You can see where I am going with this. I think it is necessary for your son to see a therapist for a good and thorough evaluation to help assess why he is smoking marijuana. I doubt very much that peer pressure is the main reason. Peer pressure may be contributing but our teens tend to gravitate toward peers who they identify with. I also wonder where your son is getting the money to purchase marijuana. This is also an important question. The hope is that he is not stealing money or dealing. I am not trying to alarm you. I am, instead, trying to bring up another issue that a professional may help you with.
Regarding your son having a job next year I must say that I am usually an advocate of teens having jobs as long as they learn financial responsibility and are using their money well. Also, smoking marijuana may interfere with job functioning as you are already aware, I am sure.
Please make an appointment for your son with a therapist who specializes in working with the issues that you are describing. Inquire about the possibility of family therapy. Your son may be resistant to the idea of therapy at first but my experience is that teens welcome the opportunity to talk about what is going right and not so right in their lives. Good luck and please get back to me.