Posted in Fragile Life, Insight, Nuts & Bolts, Takes a Village, Teens, Underage Drinking & more, Wisdom of Youth

The Devil is in the Dichotomy

ClayOgre, open clip

Though I’ve pestered friends and stormed the internet and rifled through leaflets outside the guidance office, I can’t find anything worthy of my son’s honesty.

We’ve already been clear: No sex, no drugs, no alcohol. Nothing new there. We’ve been talking about it for years.

What’s new is our son. He’s changed. He turned the corner on sophomore year and sprinted into his junior year, and he knew. He wanted to join in. He wanted to drink too. He wanted to get high. (Not everyone is, but his friends are, and he’s missing the fun.)

“Do you want me to hide it?” he asks. “Or do you want me to tell you?”

“I want you to wait,” I say, and he does. Until he says he doesn’t want to anymore.

“I need some time to figure this out,” I say. “How much time do I have?”

He estimates 7 or 8 months, but a few months later, he presses me:

“What are we going to do?” he says. “This is stressing me out. Nothing is changing. You just keep saying wait, and I know I’m not going to.”

I try threats–Military school.

I try thinking outside the box of culture–Moving abroad.

I try diversions–How about a trip to the mall. (I hate the mall so this is a huge concession.)

What I really want is to fast forward to 18 when these decisions are his, as these should be.

“I don’t want to lie to you,” he says. “What am I supposed to do?”

Other parents are of two minds–just say NO (and expect it’s not happening) or just say nothing (and pretend it’s not happening.)

I know this implies that most high schoolers are participating illegally, and of course that’s not true.

“Why can’t you be part of the two-thirds who aren’t using?” I ask.

“There’s no way that’s true,” he smirks.

“Well then, be a part of the 1/3 or even the 10% or even the only one. Be different.”

“I don’t want to be.”

His father and I partied long before we were of age. 300 bars in 1 mile at the Jersey shore (our hometown) kind of lends itself that way. If there were people who weren’t drinking back then, we didn’t know them, and didn’t want to.

Neither of us recall our parents saying anything to us about it–before. Of course, the drinking age was 18 which was a dramatic difference. Seniors could go to a bar at lunch time if they wanted.

21 is so unrealistic, and as a parent I can’t hold the course that long.

“Is it just the legality?” my son asks.

“It’s important,” I say. “No matter what, you’re putting someone at risk–some parents’ home, some kid who is driving.”

He tries to hedge around that, but I don’t let him. There’s no arguing this starkness of this truth.

“I want to be safe,” he says. “That’s why I want to be able to tell you so you can help me.”

Where is he getting this stuff? Online? Where’s my stuff?

“It’s also the other kids,” I say. “Maybe you’ll be smart, but someone else won’t. And then there’s the other kids for whom your choices will set the norm. What about their risks? What about that responsibility?”

He doesn’t have an answer. He looks as defeated as I am. We are sitting on his bed. I reach out and caress his shoulder.

“If I thought alcohol or pot were the answers you were looking for,” I say, “I’d go out and get it for you because I want you to have fun. I want you to experience your wildness.”

“I know,” he says.

When I return to the internet for some kind of support with this conversation, I find two extremes–Be clear with your kids about your expectations; OR when they’re heading toward rehab–encourage them to be candid with you.

What about the in between? What about a son who wants to remain in right relationship with his parents, and yet wants to explore the world in ways in which we can’t legally or logically approve?

The devil is in this dichotomy, and neither my son or I can live with that.

‘What about emancipation?” I say. “Then you can make your own decisions.”

“I’m not ready to be on my own,” he says.

“Then save these decisions for when you are.”

“I still need your support,” he says. “Even with this.”

Kelly Salasin, November 2011

For more on the drug and alcohol issue, click here.

To read more about parenting teens, click here.


Lifelong educator, writer, retreat & journey leader, yoga & yogadance instructor.

34 thoughts on “The Devil is in the Dichotomy

  1. You say “I try threats–Military school.” never threat a young man, it didnt work on me and it wont work on him. but do you even remember your youth?…of corse you do, “300 bars in 1 mile at the Jersey shore” proves this. but was there a consequence for this one mile drinking expedition? now is the time that a threat, ESPECIALLY MILITARY SCHOOL will make him all the more curious and rebellious. he will want to prove to himself that you are not in complete control.
    you also say: “Creative ones–Moving abroad”. this is a bad idea. in doing this you are just moving the problem away from yourself and making it someone else’s. not matter where he goes, africa, japan or colonel sanders ranch in kentucky he is still going to be curios and eventually end up “experimenting” -(in a most likely unsafe manner). no matter what you do the opportunity will still present itself.
    perhaps instead of telling your son the risks you also need to inform him of the side effects. while at college i have been offered to smoke dope with friends, but i don’t smoke dope anymore. i currently feel that its a drug that makes me socially retarded, i withdraw from any conversation, and just think about how i am going to what i want to do in this life. in the end everything would become so intense that i would end up passing out, and feel like my brain had been set on a frying pan the next morning. but there was a time when i would write / play music, draw and laugh with friends as we watched cartoons.
    but marijuana is a completely different drug than alcohol. you cant die just from smoking it alone. of course but driving, or doing other dim-witted teenage boy type of things after can get you into trouble. but he knows this. weather you told him or not. he needs to trust his gut and you need to trust his decision to say set his foot down and say no to his friends if some “cool idea at the time were to arise”.
    here is how i like to view my booze: you don’t mess around with it with regard to other things. drinking drinking by itself…sure ill have a few beers listen to some music and relax with friends. but i would never drink and think it was a good idea to go swimming or driving after.
    I’ll admit i never wen to those big high school parties. at most it was 5 friends and me with a few beers and we were never going to leave the vicinity one the first bottle had been opened. we would only hang out together there, take care of each other there, laugh out loud together ,sleep and cleanup in the morning. i’m pretty sure because i was a lot like him, but your son is most likely interested in the bonding time with his friends that i just described rather than what comes in a bottle with a label.
    after going through what he is going through now i would say all you need to do is trust his decision and make sure if he were to do anything involving “sex” “smoking” or “sipping” he is doing it in a safe environment with the people that he trusts. let him do it too, its likely he will learn more about what a few too many beers can do to you with a hangover that makes your head want to explode at the sound of a pin drop rathe than what you or anybody else tells him.
    i would like to end this with something i tell my mom every time she starts to bombard me with questions about my own midnight mischief…
    “dont smother be a mother”


  2. Kel – I certainly do not envy the position you are in. Having been in many of the same drunken high school situations right along side of you I, of course, would want my son to refrain. When I think about the stupid decisions I made as a teenager under the influence I could cry. But mostly I thank God that I did not kill myself or anyone else because of my poor choices. I don’t know if forbidding your son to drink/smoke will stop him from doing so, but I do think he needs to know that your answer is no. I love the openness you share but I still think children want you to draw the line somewhere. Having been in a 20 yr relationship with an alcoholic (7 yrs drinking and 13 yrs sober), I have definitely seen the destruction drinking can cause to a supposedly “intelligent” person. I wonder if going to an AA meeting (with or without you) would give him some additional insight? As he said, it is ultimately his decision, but maybe seeing/talking/listening to some people who have been through the worst might at least delay his decision. Of course, the meetings are anonymous, but maybe you know of someone who attends and would be willing to bring him along. I’ll be keeping you and yours in my prayers and look forward, as always, to reading more from you. Good luck!


  3. Hey Lloyd & family,

    First off I’d like to say to Lloyd that I admire you’re ability to share with your family what you want to do and likewise, your family able to listen in a constructive & intelligent manner. There are not many kids that I know of that have taken this discussion so seriously and intelligently as you.

    And of course, I agree with everyone.

    The actual age, from the latest of what I read, of your brain maturing is 25 – god that’s a long way off. It also seems confirmed that the longer you wait, even in months, the better off you are in lessening the risk of addiction. I’m assuming you know that stuff.

    Two weeks ago Twin Valley High School had a speaker, Kevin, stuck in a wheelchair, who at the age of 20, ended up drunk & driving over 90, flipped his car, paralyzing himself and killing his passenger. The main purpose of having Kevin speak was not to scare kids but for him to tell his story after the accident and to emphasis the unintended consequences – the damage done to all involved, his 5 year old sister wishing at every one of her birthdays that he would walk, his guilt over his friend’s death, the impact on his family, friends, etc.

    The surprising thing about this event was the reaction from the students – they were already extremely skeptical about the 2/3rds not using – and maybe rightly so – but the number of kids that “heard” this guy’s story was phenomenal. Kids that haven’t connected to any adult in their years at school are emailing and texting Kevin weekly. They are still talking about him and what he had to say. And how it has affected their lives. There is a partying crowd at TVHS. Of course, this is on the heels of a horrible accident involving a new driver at the high school crashing his car into a tree and causing his 18 year old passenger still in a coma in Albany. It was late at night, a wet road, and nothing out yet on if alcohol or drugs were involved.

    In Japan, if you are caught driving with any, alcohol in your system, .01%, you are fined $5,000. I kind of like that penalty. It doesn’t stop drinking, Bob can probably attest to the increase in taxi services, but it has effectively stopped one detrimental aspect of poisoning your brain. Road deaths & injuries. But what about other consequences to folks drinking: who’s left alone at home, relational issues, the need for continually seeking this activity.

    Another face to this discussion is what are you getting out of the deal? Is what you are doing, not under the influence, all you can get out of life? Are you engaged in things that make you happy? Exciting or engaging enough? Make you freaking nervous that you can’t believe you’re trying this? Drinking is going to lower your inhibitions. So there’s the magic. Do you currently have a problem stepping up to the plate on things- talk to girls, bust with friends, have a good time being goofy? And so you also end up with folks who likewise need assistance in having fun? Kind of lame in hindsight to me. Induced Jackass.
    But there’s the advantage with alcohol – but with it, it can so easily get way out of hand – and with no experience – trouble.

    There is not much you can control in life. And even with the best, well intended planning, things just happen. You’re also in the great part of life where thrill seeking & novelty are literally coursing in your veins – and it is hard to resist. Talk about mixed signals. I’ve seen wreckage and know percentages. So, when you decide to either or both drink/smoke, if at a some point the situation starts to get funky, that voice inside your head (parent hopes & conversations & expectations included),will start having a internal conversation and you’ll intuitively feel you are in too deep, in need a safe exit strategy. The only other thing I can offer to this conversation is that when (and if) you do hear those voices – you decisively act on them – no matter how you think that will be perceived among your peers.

    I’ll hope for the best and cross my fingers for (your) luck and good planning.

    After the first time, you’ll say that that was no big deal, but every future time you get into it, brings many new factors into the equation, and cocky is not one place I’d position myself. You can always ask Kevin about that.

    Thanks for sharing.



    1. I like your simplicity, especially in that it comes with experience.

      For me, 16 is too soon to “let go.” For me, trust isn’t as relevant, as my parenting obligation. Sure, it’s definitely time to shift from manager to consultant, but it’s not time to turn over the reigns; no matter how hard he’s pulling.

      It reminds me of what I read of Kim John Payne’s about the parenting of teens vs. pre-teens. He says that when the tweens start acting like teens, most parents shift prematurely to the consultant role; but it’s too early; the tweens are just “trying on” the teen behaviors, they’re not ready to actually be teens.

      I’m starting to think that the same might be true of my teen in terms of him claiming adulthood. I’m tempted to let go (give up really), but the truth is I still have a vital role; I’m just not sure how to play it.

      Thanks for reading, responding, and caring.


      1. When my eldest started to push, and pull, it was hard. Racking, really.
        But eventually I yielded to her urge for experience, knowing she was smart, and knowing she knew she came from a loving home, as I’m sure yours is. She made mistakes, and that was also difficult to face, but we got through, thankfully, and she’s grateful now for the opportunity to blossom in her own fashion.

        Of course you know your own kids, and will know the timing that works best for all of you- just sharing what we experienced. And will also draw from with our youngest.


  4. I love the “keep it open and keep it honest” approach Lloyd, Kelly and Casey. It has worked in our home. We have healthy discussions and debates at our dining room table. We have two simple rules;
    1. What is said at the dining room table, stays at the dining room table.
    2. No one gets in trouble for being honest.

    I don’t think there are enough words in the English language that we can use in lecturing to our youth on not doing something that is at all affective (It doesn’t mean I haven’t tried). I believe our job as parents is to educate and I really think that is all we can do beside what Lloyd, Kelly and Casey are doing, keeping open and honest with each other.

    Gail is right, there are no real answers here. Just keep the conversation going is the best we can do.

    I am curious, what does Aiden have to say?


  5. Since Lloyd, my beloved nephew, appears himself here in the comments, I will address this to him, and hope he understands that it comes from a place of deep love and concern.

    Lloyd, first I would suggest checking your father’s bookshelf for a title “Letters to my son” by (I think) Kent Nerburn. I hope he still has it. There is a chapter about drugs and alcohol, and I think he says what needs to be said very clearly and well, especially when he talks about those who “tried things out”, only to find they were among those whom drugs/alcohol grabs them by the throat and doesn’t let go. This is a reality, Lloyd. For those with addiction in their family history–and for you, that happens on BOTH sides of your family–the risk is much, much greater. Is it worth the risk, when you yourself, in the comment above, have described parents of your friends as not knowing “how to handle the problem”–hear yourself, in your own words, describing it as a problem. That’s because, on the most basic level, you know that it is.

    Your mother makes a good point when she brings up emancipation, and you say you aren’t ready. If you aren’t ready for that, how can you be ready to decide about something so important as a potentially addictive habit? The commenter above who stated that your brain is still developing until your mid twenties is absolutely correct. This creates a dual concern; that is, you can damage a still-developing brain AND you don’t yet have the brain capacity to make sound judgments. That’s not a dig against you, and I’m sure we all like to think we have a grand capacity for decision-making. But that part of your brain that is still developing is mainly the frontal lobe, the center for executive functions, for judgment and decision making. Your neurons in that part of your brain are still working hard to myelinate themselves so they can communicate efficiently with each other. Yes, Lloyd, believe it or not, as smart as you are, you are going to get even smarter in time. 😉 That is, if you don’t damage what you’ve got by making a hasty decision. Have you asked yourself why you are curious about something potentially harmful? Perhaps you have. I don’t know. But it’s important to do, and to hold yourself to really getting a good answer, something more than “Just because”. I don’t know what that answer is for you, and you don’t have to tell me. Just ask yourself, and be honest with yourself. Is there disbelief on your part that it can really be harmful? Know that there were 88 people in my graduating class in NJ. At least 5, that I know of, are dead due to drugs and/or drug-related problems. 4 of them before age 35.

    Know this also–as social worker, at times my job has been to work with people with serious addictions. Last year, at the hospital where I was working, the job was to work with adolescents who were addicted. Each one thought they were fine, even as their drug use was creating problems for them and their families, getting them into trouble with the law, landing them in a day treatment program. Each thought they were immune to addiction. And each had something deeper going on, something more than the simplistic notion of peer pressure, that they were trying to escape. I don’t know if this is the case for you, but if it is, look at it, an talk about it with your parents who love you enough to permit you to present yourself to them honestly in even difficult circumstances.
    Each of these kids I worked with was fooled into believing that they needed something outside of themselves to “alter” their mind. You, my dear nephew, have the intelligence and strength of character to alter your mind in many other ways that do not harm you or others, and do not put you at risk of damage or a criminal offense. You have this power within you–would you not be even more curious about this type of exploration? Would you not rather be the intriguing statistical outlier with something to show your peers and the world about what is possible?

    If none of that is enough to get you to reconsider, than perhaps a larger world-view might? Read the headlines about the lives of people in Mexico that are being destroyed, the kidnappings and murders of innocent people, people trying to fight back, the government that is weakened beyond all imagining, by drug cartels whose profits are fueled by drug demand from the USA. Do you know where your drugs would come from? Are friends growing their own (in this regard, I almost hope they are)? Our decisions here have consequences that ripple far beyond our sight. Is the family of the father who is murdered by a cartel’s paid gunmen less valuable than you and your family? In the bigger scheme of things, when we want a better more peaceful world, can you say that fueling this activity is a moral choice? As a moral being, it is worth examining this question for yourself.

    If none of this will persuade you, then speak to your uncle Jess about the legal realities of having a drug offense on your record, because this can happen. And if it does, it can prevent you from getting student loans, getting admitted to schools or, later-on, jobs. That’s no joke. Your future has too many bright prospects to consider such an unbearably cheap trade-off, a few moments of mindless recreation for a future of headaches and frustrations.

    You are worth so so so so much more than that, Lloyd.

    I love you, and pray that wisdom, self-love and self-respect guide you in this and all the important decisions yet to come. And I love you no matter what you decide, always.



    1. I’ve been thinking about this post and planning to what to reply, again, but Jen you really have said all and more here. Thank you and save it for reprint. As always with us humans, the hard part is conveying that these words do apply to us and not just the other guy. Not just Lloyd or other teenagers. What does apply to Llyod is how fortunate he is to have so much loving support.


  6. I’m so impressed with the connection that Kelly and Casey and Lloyd seem to be maintaining as they approach these lively discussions and interesting conflicts. Connection, connection, connection. Keep up the good hard work.

    As I see it, this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of issue. The facts are out there about the dangers and risks. The young adults are exposed to all of the pros and cons in ways that we were not. They understand them in theory before they test the theories, then they gain a new knowledge set and an experiential understanding. Take it slow, Lloyd. I have an investment in your brain cells.

    I also keep hearing this in my head as I read and write regarding this post…Lloyd is smart! All kinds of really smart: head and heart, facts and imagination, family and self. I’m going to count on Lloyd, and his firm foundation (thanks to the lovingly dedicated efforts of his parents) to use all of the available light surrounding him to get through these tricky times, and also offer…

    You can always call on Bob and I, too, if you ever need help or are in a bind and you can’t locate your parents. We’re all about safety and connection!

    And, if you want to talk about our personal experience with 2 out of our 4 teenagers (so far), come on over. And, keep your eye on Luci, would ya?
    ; )


    1. “As I see it, this is not a one-size-fits-all kind of issue. The facts are out there about the dangers and risks. The young adults are exposed to all of the pros and cons in ways that we were not. They understand them in theory before they test the theories…”

      Good reminder. I told Lloyd that I was afraid to know what he knows because then I’ll know what damage I did in my ignorance. I remember my parents saying the same thing about smoking–that there wasn’t the info when they started. I had the info and never did smoke. I’d like to think that if I’d had the info about alcohol that I would never have been a binge drinker in my youth.


  7. Lloyd, Don’t DO IT ~~~~ Be the level headed pure kid who saves the others… the thoughtful clear-headed guy that makes the difference. The one who is sober and can be the designated driver, the one who does CPR on their friend when they have stopped breathing because they have overdosed on something they didn’t realize would affect them LIKE THAT… and be the one who has enough wits to figure out how or when to call 911 so their friend doesn’t die this one time because you were smart enough to notice that something just doesn’t or didn’t seem right and that something is life-threatening!

    NO matter how challenging it seems right now, be the one who just says no, and keep trying to find other avenues. Take some friends “there” with you and save this crazy world some day! It’s a tough road, and drugs and alcohol never make it easier. Find some positive addictions and rock that stuff! Please.

    Do the budget… see what it will cost if you do and what it will cost if you don’t??? I must say the price of using is your life… ponder these words. I have plenty of experiences…and seen family members and friends in crisis from drug use. Having grown up as a student at BUHS in the late 70’s and now living in Wildwood Crest NJ where I raised daughters who grew up surprised to find out that peers were smoking and drinking before college during High School years. And I could go on and on… but ultimately you will have to make up your own mind.

    ~ But yes, take all of this information, and when you make your decisions they will come from a place of being informed on some level… and as is said… in order for there to be light… there has had to have been some dark… Welcome to daylight standard time… or the DARK SIDE!

    P.S. What the others have said makes good sense as well.


  8. Hi Kelly,

    Saw your post and couldn’t help but want to respond. My daughter was using crystal meth during her last years of high school and became an addict by age 19. (We didn’t know about her high school use.) It started with drinking and smoking pot. Every child will not go this route, but my hope is that parents will ask themselves this question, “Is is worth the risk?” The pot out there now is so much stronger than anything that was around decades ago, and kids can become addicted to it as well.

    It is amazing that you are having these conversations with your child and shows what insight you have as a parent. Your child sounds very respectful of you, and as many kids are, he is torn because of the peer pressure. He sounds like a really great kid.

    I love your line, “If I thought alcohol or pot were the answers you were looking for, I’d get it for you myself,” How true and yet how do we make our kids safe in a world that seems to promote drug and alcohol use?

    My site has tons or resources, and there are many others as well. If you can, talk to a parent who has experienced teen substance abuse and addiction to get an idea of how devastating it can be. Do you have a family history with relatives having an abuse issue? That would only compound the risk.

    Let me just say this, it is not about him lying to you, it’s about you, as parents setting boundaries and being clear that using drugs or alcohol is not allowed. From your post, it sounds like that is what you are doing. If you need to drug test your son to be sure he is abiding by your rules, then that is an option. I know it sounds harsh, but the alternative is not worth it. His brain is still in the developmental stages, and will not be fully developed until he is in his mid twenties. If he could refrain from alcohol until he is 21, which can be challenging, that would be amazing. Absolutely I would do whatever you need, to keep him off drugs and alcohol during his teen years.

    If you want information on finding brain research to show him pictures on what happens to his brain when someone uses alcohol and drugs, let me know.

    Good luck, I know this is not easy. I was in denial at points with my daughter’s use and we all suffered the consequences. Being strong parents will enable your son to find his strength as well.


    1. Hi Cathy,

      I enjoyed reading your response to this article. I am Kelly’s son. I believe that you are correct in saying that setting firm expectations and boundaries are important. However, I think it is incredibly important to make sure your child feels comfortable talking to you before or after they do these things. If you have set boundaries in a somewhat threatening way by telling them there will be punishments if they participate in these activities, they may feel uncomfortable talking to you. This can become an issue especially if your child has already begun to do so. Instead of asking themselves, “Is it worth the risk?” parents should be asking their kids this question; because ultimately it is the kid’s decision whether or not they want to drink or smoke.

      I know that many of my friends’ parents are aware on some level that their kids are participating in these activities. They either don’t care or they don’t know how to handle the problem so they just pretend it’s not happening. Most of my friends drink and some of them smoke marijuana as well. My question is how do you deal with a kid who has told you they are going to drink or they are currently drinking? You could get a drug test and when you found out they’ve been drinking you could ground them and not allow them to see their friends. But what does this accomplish? It most certainly doesn’t build a stronger bond between you and your kid. Most likely they will start these activities again but they will be more careful not to get caught. Ultimately, if kids decide that they are going to drink, punishing them is not going to make them change their mind. I think it’s just going to create a ongoing conflict between you and your kid.

      The conflict that me and my parents are currently trying to navigate is that I have told them that I would like to drink and smoke marijuana with my friends. This is not because I want in “fit in” or because my friends have been pestering me to start (on the contrary in the past they have been completely understanding when I told them I didn’t want to participate in whatever they were doing). I am just interested, curious even as to what all this is like. Once I try it I may even decide its not for me. This is doubtful but still a possibility. I have studied all the health effects, the risks, the penalties, but I’ve still decided I want to try these things. I know once I begin to drink or smoke it can become a very slippery slope and it can lead to many bad decisions. That is why I decided to talk with my parents before I decided to do these things. We’ve had many lengthy talks and I think they’re beginning to realize that they are not going to dissuade me. They most certainly do not condone what I have decided to do but they know that in the end it’s my decision. I have asked them to be there for me in potentially dangerous situations and help guide me while I’m making these choices. In turn I will tell them where and when I plan on doing these things. My dad has always told me that if I’m ever in a situation where I’m around someone who’s drinking and then is going to drive I can call him and he will come pick me up so I don’t have to get in a car with a drunk person. However, this would most likely be my last choice (next to getting in the car with the person) if I was afraid of getting caught. If my dad already knew where I was going and what I was going to do then I would feel completely comfortable calling him. We might even be able to plan something out before hand.

      This is new to both my parents and me (obviously) so we really wanted some outside input, especially people with experience like yourself. So I’d love to hear what you think about our specific situation.




      1. Hi Lloyd,

        How wonderful that you joined the discussion. You sound mature and together and I know this is a pressing issue for every teenager. Again, the relationship you seem to have with your parents is amazing and I appreciate this discussion.

        This is a brief version of my story. I found crystal meth in my daughter’s backpack when she was 17, fall of her senior year. Her dad and I talked to her, and she said she was not doing drugs, but only carrying it for friends and she knew if was wrong, and wouldn’t do it again.

        I choose to believe her because I wanted to continue the good relationship we had and because I was naive. What would you have done it this situation if you were the parent?

        She went on to Colorado for college and two years later she finally told me that she was addicted to crystal meth. She had wasted her college years, and now our task was to find the right rehab, which was emotionally exhausting for our family and expensive.

        My daughter began by drinking beer, smoking marijuana and cigarettes in high school. Didn’t catch if you smoke cigarettes or not. Do you?

        Making a plan with your dad is an excellent idea. I know many parents have told their kids to call them rather than get into a car with someone who has been drinking.

        For your situation, I would say this. The most important job a parent has is to ensure the safety of their child. Most kids do get through high school unscathed, yet it can happen and you are taking a gamble when you use drugs and alcohol in high school because you don’t know if you will become addicted. Once you go down that road, the journey back is life changing, and your parents will no longer be able to help you through it. This will be a problem that you alone will have to manage for the rest of your life.

        On this sentence, “…potentially dangerous situations and help guide me while I’m making these choices.” Most likely your parents will not be with you if a situation involving drinking and drugging turns dangerous. Besides a phone call which may be too late, how would your parents be able to help you?

        “In turn I will tell them where and when I plan on doing these things.” Are you asking your parents to OK your illegal underage drinking and smoking marijuana? Really?

        “I know once I begin to drink or smoke it can become a very slippery slope and it can lead to many bad decisions.” You know it can be potentially dangerous and can be harmful to you and others? You sound like an intelligent young man, who is giving in to peer pressure and curiosity, which can potentially ruin your life.

        You may think that young people who become addicted come from homes that are dysfunctional, or that their parents don’t care, but that is just not the case. Many things, including genetics play into whether someone will become addicted or not. Once a teen starts down the road of substance abuse to addiction, parents will have lost control.

        Drug Facts:*

        1). Marijuana is addictive: The chances of becoming addicted to marijuana or an drug are different for each person. For marijuana, around 1 in 11 could be become addicted.

        “Spice” (also know as K-2):

        Is considered to be a “fake marijuana”
        Has put people in emergency rooms with vomiting, confusion, and hallucinations.
        Is abused mainly by smoking

        Drinking and driving can add up to tragic endings. In the U.S., about 5,000 people under age 21 die each year from injuries caused by underage drinking, nearly 40 percent (1,900) in car crashes.

        More than 4 in 10 people who begin drinking before age 15 eventually become alcoholics. (* National Institute for Drug Abuse @

        I would strongly encourage you and your family to watch this short, powerful video, called “Overtaken” at

        HBO “Addiction” video is another and can be rented through Netflix, or another video rental company. It explains all about addiction, how the brain is affected and actions that can help to prevent addiction.

        Some of my favorite books that tell the story of teen substance abuse that turned into addiction are: Beautiful Boy, by David Sheff, Broken, by William Cope Moyers and Stay Close, by Libby Cataldi. I encourage you to read at least one of these, to understand how easily substance addiction can lead to addiction and the devastation it causes families, especially parents.

        What about instead of thinking about drugs and alcohol, think about what you would like to do in your life. What’s your passion? Go here and check out Natural High ( and see what other kids your age are doing with their lives besides drinking and drugging. They are living large, finding their passion and having an amazing life. You can do that too!

        My best to both of you. Lloyd, you know where I stand on your decision, but realize I’m on your side. I want the best for you.


  9. Agree with Gail, but also would actually do some exploring with him. I am convinced there is a duality to everything–a bright side that we are happy to acknowledge, and a dark side that we don’t want to acknowledge.

    With the use of drugs and alcohol I would ask what is the upside, the connection with others, the lubricated conversations, the ease of approaching difficult choices. Remember the phrase “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” Is easy sex part of the allure? What do the friends have to say about what they enjoy about drugs and alcohol? After discussing and listening to all the upside, then follow with discussing the downside. Legality is just one of them, but maybe that needs to be explored further. Who do the kids know who has gotten into legal trouble? Have they had an honest conversation with them? What were the legal consequences, admitting that many of them do not show up quickly. Just ask Bill Clinton about inhaling or not and how much later that question came up. How much did a legal defense cost? Then how about the more immediate consequences–how did the friends feel about being toilet huggers when they overdid it? How did they feel when they woke up and couldn’t remember what they had done? If they want to use marijuana to relieve stress, how has that worked out for the chronic stoners? Do they get anywhere with their lives? Can they concentrate on school, work, relationships? Ask for real honesty in these questions. Discuss both the appealing aspects and the other side.

    I remember telling my kids that their brain is what distinguishes them from the other animals. Their consciousness is the peak of the entire animal kingdom. It’s the highest we can achieve, what would make them want to sacrifice that? Why would we not want to be conscious and aware at the highest levels possible. I also described people I knew who were addicted to tobacco and acknowledged that they all started when they were young and wanted to fit in. Now 20-30 years later they are stuck with this filthy habit, but they don’t even know any of the friends who were so important to them back then. I acknowledged that they want to fit in, but that fitting in will look different during different parts of their lives. Ask about people who don’t use drugs or alcohol to lubricate their social relationships and find out if there is such a dear cost to that approach. Acknowledge also that the forbidden fruit is often the most appealing, and find out how much of the appeal is due to the forbidden nature?

    I listen to my wife who recommends that parents listen more and talk less, but asking pertinent questions can invite talking. It also invites further consideration that younger people may not have given. I agree that giving them the answers can invite debate, but asking them to think about weighing the competing interests can encourage drawing their own conclusions or at least compel them to take the responsibility for themselves.

    I remember one time when our daughter was asking us if she could go somewhere with one of her friends but we had the sense she didn’t really want to go. It turned out she didn’t want to go but couldn’t come up with an excuse that her friends would accept. We told her that we were willing to provide her the cover, we would tell her she couldn’t go and that she could blame it all on her ridiculous parents. She seemed pleased with that arrangement.

    Sometimes I think kids pose these questions in order to get someone else to make the decision for them. Making their own decision and accepting the consequences can be much more frightening. Sometimes just telling them that you trust them to exercise good judgment can empower them to think it through and come to their own carefully considered decision.

    I remember when my son wanted to get a tattoo. I told him that I considered tattoos to be self mutilation and that I would not get one. I told him that when I was young only low class former merchant marines had tattoos and that nobody of any real status had one. If he wanted to see tattoos he could cruise the bars across the tracks and see all the tattoos he wanted. But I also told him that if he was determined to have one that he would have to wait until he was 18 and would have to pay for it himself. Well, he did get a tattoo after he turned 18 and he did pay for it. But at least he was clear how we felt about it (my wife also didn’t like the idea so she supported my argument against.) We did let him know that we would not love him any less for getting one.

    There are no easy answers. Sometimes the kids need to be aware of that and think it through also. Do they really think that they will be more popular if they use drugs or alcohol? Is popularity really all it’s cracked up to be? How well does the search for popularity work out for many of the young celebrities who get in trouble with drugs and alcohol. At least in Los Angeles we are constantly confronted with the news and trials of various young celebrities having these problems and their difficulties provide an object lesson. One of the current batch is Lindsay Lohan who is now going to spend some jail time for using and flaking out on legal responsibilities. Ask Charlie Sheen how well drugs have helped his social life, you may not get an honest answer. If we could ask Kurt Cobain that question, he might have a different answer now. The Michael Jackson trial is just coming to an end. Some of the consequences are very much in our faces.

    Good luck and whatever path they choose, there will be something to learn.


    1. “With the use of drugs and alcohol I would ask what is the upside, the connection with others, the lubricated conversations, the ease of approaching difficult choices.”

      Great to have a father’s voice weigh in, and I appreciate your insight around the dark and the light, particularly when it comes to questions. Thoughtful questions have moved our conversation forward.


  10. Kelly,
    I am going to print this and use it as a discussion starter for a workshop on Teens and Drugs.
    Thanks! You write sooo well!


  11. Wow, I am impressed that you and your son could have this open conversation. Ultimately, he has to make his own decision regardless of what you say and what his friends say. Be true to yourself. Maybe this is a time for him to separate from you more.
    You can’t support his decision to get drunk or high, and you will be there I’m sure when he wants to talk about what happened. Just try not to say “I told you so” and instead say, “What did you learn?”
    Is it time to let go more? (And still maintain where you stand?) “Stay the course.”


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