3 Reasons My 16 Year Old Smokes Weed


The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 151 · Duration: 00:19:38

3 Reasons My 16 Year Old Smokes Weed

How do you fight it when your 16 year old son has several reasons to justify his smoking weed?
We’ll talk about this and more on this week’s podcast, 3 Reasons My 16 Year Old Smokes Weed.

Linda From LA writes:

I've learned my 16 year old has been smoking weed for 2 years now. I asked him why he uses it, and he shared that it helps him go to sleep, deal with anxiety, and it feels good.

I was able to get him to go to therapy for 6 months but it was unproductive, I took him to learn about an IOP program and he got very upset and refused to listen how they could help all of us and said he doesn't have a problem, and he doesn't want to discuss his insomnia with an MD. I then found your podcast and have started focusing on the responsibilities he performs well. My hope is that he will stop using weed. I'm ready to have the conversation but I'm wondering how to hold him accountable for stopping the use of weed? I’m worried he my resort to vaping, which is so easily hidden as it, has no smell. Do I test him?

Thanks for your question Linda. It’s an important one that many parents are struggling with. You are absolutely right to be concerned about your son’s marijuana use. The adolescent brain is in an important stage of profound development and the regular introduction of THC into a teenager’s system will impair that development. The earlier a youth begins substance abuse, you know the younger they are when they start, then the more serious the negative impacts will be. Also, the younger a person is when they begin substance abuse, the more likely it is that they will experience long term substance abuse or addiction issues as an adult.

So Linda, you are absolutely right to want to address this. He tells you that smoking weed helps him sleep, feel less anxious, and feel good overall. Who wouldn’t want to sleep better, feel less anxious and overall, feel good? With these perceived benefits, it makes sense that he would want to keep using it and would make him reluctant to give it up.

You sent your son to 6 months of counseling and that didn’t change his behavior, and you visited an Intensive Outpatient Program with him, presumably one that addresses kids with substance abuse issues and he vehemently rejected it. He also didn’t want to address his insomnia with a physician. You found my podcast and started focusing on the responsibilities that he’s performing well, but you’re still wondering how to get him off of weed.

The Control Battle

Yes, getting your son off of weed is both important and challenging, but let’s see if I can help here.

By the way, one of the biggest obstacles in his getting off of weed is his peer group. Kids that smoke weed, hang out with other kids that smoke weed so when he socializes out of school, he’s going to be around kids smoking and even if he wanted to quit, he’d have a hard time not smoking with his friends. So we have our work cut out for us.

I’m glad you’ve identified some responsibilities he does well. Hopefully school is one of them, and yes we want to stay on the positive side as we introduce limits.

Right now Linda, you are in a Control Battle with your son. You keep trying to get him to address this issue and perhaps others, and he tells you what he will and won’t do. He won’t go to an IOP and he won’t see his doctor. Now you feel helpless but that’s not how it’s supposed to be particularly with an important issue like this. Let’s look at how you can move forward without creating a new form of the Control Battle, one where you are determined to make him quit and he remains determined to continue using.

Consider the Factors of Your Situation

One factor we need to think about is your son’s age. At 16, he’s an older adolescent; 16,17, and 18 are the older adolescent years and the young adult years from 18-19 through 24 are the final stage of adolescence years.

In dealing with your son, we’ll want to treat him with respect and set limits in a way that are respectful of his status as an older teenager. Obviously there’s a big difference between how we deal with a 14 year old and a 16 year old, right?

So in addressing the weed, we want to open up an important discussion about the fact that it’s a problem, and that you want to work with him to figure out how best to address it. I like it that you started being positive with him about the responsibilities he’s managing well. Now we need for you to discover a more empowered version of yourself and take a strong but benevolent position with your son.

In addressing weed with our teens, we want to open up an important discussion about the fact that it’s a problem, and that you want to work with them to figure out how best to address it.Click To Tweet

How to Start the Conversation about Weed

A starting point Linda is with a version of The Talk. The Talk is a way to kick-start a serious behavioral change that has been needed for a long time but hasn’t been successfully addressed due to a Control Battle.

I hate to use this podcast to plug my book, but it’s apropos here because in my book, Ending the Parent Teen Control Battle, chapter 6 Making The Big Shift, explains how to successfully set up The Talk and gives an example of how to implement it. You can get the e-version of the book, the audio version, or the physical book, whatever works best for you.

Linda here is how your talk with your son could go and I’ll refer to him as Dylan. In doing this, I’m going to be showing you stronger voice and a stronger leadership position for you to engage. Okay?

Linda: Dylan, I want you to know that I believe in you and know you’re a great kid. I respect that you’re handling your school responsibilities independently, and while you could probably be doing better if you gave it your best, you’re handling it. Nice job.

I like it that you [ insert specific situation here].

But a major issue that isn’t being addressed is the marijuana abuse. I know you’re reluctant to give up marijuana. From your point of view it helps you sleep, it reduces your anxiety, and makes you feel good. Those are all good things and I can’t argue against that. But Dylan, smoking weed to address those issues it is absolutely the wrong thing to do. That’s called substance abuse. Right now you should be growing and using skills to manage anxiety, to learn and apply sleep hygiene for yourself, and to feel good and feel good about yourself. Managing your feelings is a critical skill set that we all need to learn. You’re a teenager and your adolescent years are really important for learning about yourself and how to manage your feelings as well as your responsibilities and your social life.

Dylan, I think I owe you an apology. You were using marijuana for two years before I even learned about it. I should’ve been paying closer attention. There are probably ways in which you needed more support than you were getting and more guidance and limits than you were getting and weed was available and so you used it; now it’s a habit. So I’m sorry about that.

We can’t get those two years back, but we can do a great job with now and with the years ahead. So I don’t want to fight about your weed use. It’s something that needs to be addressed but it’s not something that needs to be fought about. This is only the first conversation we’re going have about this. What I would like you to do is start thinking about quitting weed. I know it won’t be easy because all your friends smoke and up until now you haven’t been motivated to quit.

You’ve explained why it is that you do smoke. What do you think some of the advantages would be if you didn’t smoke and you were sober?

Dylan: I suppose I could do better on some things but I think I’m doing good enough.

Linda: You’re a pretty talented kid and you can do well without trying your best. But for me your best is good enough and nothing less. That’s because that’s an important part of self-discovery; learning how capable you are and developing a personal value that says I’m someone who always does his best. That way people can count on you to be great. Being someone who always does his best is an important part of integrity and I want you to be a person of integrity; someone who others can count on and someone who can count on himself and feel good about who he is. Doing your best is an important part of developing self-esteem; an important part of “feeling good”; a much healthier way to feel good than smoking weed. I want today to be a start of something new. I want today to be you taking your first steps into young adulthood and you and I growing a really healthy relationship that supports your steps into young adulthood.

Okay Linda, now this is step one.

How to Continue the Conversation about Weed with Your Teen

Now you’ll have a follow up discussion about what he’s thought about.

If he’s got some positive ideas, they will probably be things like cut back rather than quit. That’s okay for starters, but dig down and ask him about what cutting back would be. Maybe it’s something that sounds acceptable such as I’ll only smoke on the weekends. You’ll want to know, does he mean every weekend, all day and night on the weekend or once in a while on a weekend. If he thinks he can actually do that, he’s probably wrong but you may want to consider it under the condition that he quit entirely for two or three months to prove he isn’t addicted before he tries to use is socially or occasionally. Then, yes, testing would be a good way to establish that he in fact isn’t smoking.

Maybe he’ll say something defiant like, I already told you about what I think, indicating that he isn’t buying into the idea that he needs to change.

That’s when you will want to remind him that privileges are earned and they come with cooperation and respect and you want to work with him as a young adult and work together, but if he’s going to be defiant, you’ll need to withdraw privileges that aren’t being earned. Smoking weed and being defiant and disrespectful is not how we earn privileges.

Linda, I think you were on the right track with the IOP. But the problem was that you gave your power away. We need a more empowered version of you, one that has a vision, not that limits or stereotypes your son, but says that doing his best and being respectful and cooperative, and productively deals with problems, are non-negotiable.

You can call the IOP and ask them how to motivate your son and if they know counselors that specialize in substance abusing teenagers and will support you and your son in getting your son off of marijuana. It needs to be someone who will work with the two of you so that the meetings are productive towards the goal of sobriety.

So parents, therapists and folks who work with parents or kids, adolescent substance abuse is a significant issue and with cannabis legal in many places, kids wrongly think it’s legal for them and reasonable and normal to smoke. But as Linda discovered, substance abuse with her teenager isn’t a stand-alone problem. It’s a problem that won’t be successfully addressed without Mom reinventing herself as an empowered positive leader in her family. From that position, she can engage her family members in problem solving without entering Control Battles.

Thanks for tuning in today everyone and special thanks to Linda for her most valuable question.

During this time of profound disruption, don’t hesitate to reach out for help, your local mental health resources are very much there, mostly using video platforms and that works just fine, phones work too, and sometimes you can be seen in person as well.

If you're looking for a resource to help keep you productive at home while also helping you become a better parent, I've prepared a free gift just for you. It’s called Parenting Through Your Child's Second 12 Years. I know you’re thinking, "What the heck, 12 more years of parenting?" Adolescence neurologically, socially and emotionally, and often financially goes to around age 24. Yes, parenting your 20-year-olds is different than the teens. Download my gift and read and learn about the different stages of adolescence and critical strategies parents can use to avoid control battles and best support their adolescents’ quest for happy successful independence.

If you are a therapist who works in a behavioral health treatment program and would like to talk with me about improving outcomes in your program, come on over to my website neildbrown.com and shoot me an email or give me a call. I’ll be happy to talk with you.

Please, take care of yourselves; you need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.

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