What to Do When You Catch Your Teen With Marijuana

If Dee Washington’s teenage daughter can experiment with marijuana, so can yours.

Washington, manager of prevention education at Harbor Behavioral Health, an affiliate of ProMedica, found marijuana paraphernalia in her 13-year-old daughter’s room.

Washington was conflicted. Her daughter was a “good kid” who was actually out volunteering at a church’s coat drive when she found the paraphernalia.

“I wanted to go off. I wanted to start screaming in the phone and I wanted to go grab her up,” Washington recalled. “You’re in so much of an anger mode but I thought, ‘Let me just calm down, let her come home.’”

She said there is no such thing as a typical teen marijuana user.

“No one is immune,” she said. “As much as I try to do good for the community and do well for my kids, they’re not in a bubble. I think there’s a lot of pressure on our kids to excel. Even if they’re excelling, they might be living for their parents or living up to somebody’s dream. The only way they can have some form of control over some aspect of their life might just be ‘Well, I’m going to try this.’ It can be a form of rebellion.”

She said it’s important for a parent to take a breath (or 100) instead of reacting harshly at that initial moment.

“The very first thing is to take a step back in that moment, compose yourself and be ready to talk,” Washington said. “I think coming really quick with a lecture, or coming with any intensified emotion, will shut them down immediately, so everything that you’re saying is not going to be absorbed.”

Still, it’s crucial for the discovery to be addressed quickly, she said.

“When she came home, I had it all laid out on the table so it was the first thing she saw, and she looked at me.”

What happens after they know you know?

“My personal take is they need to dispose of it with you, in front of you,” said Washington, who had her daughter dispose of the goods in an empty tomato paste can before pouring cooking oil on it.

The conversation that follows the disposal should be tailored to the teen’s life, she said.

“Talk about your expectations for them and get into their mindset: ‘What is this? What’s going on with you? Why did you choose this?’” said Washington. “I’ve seen parents hand pamphlets to their kids. That’s not going to matter. You’ve got to come from your heart and what you’re hoping for them.”

The legalization efforts spreading across the country are not making parents’ job easier, she noted.

“I think it’s going to make it a harder sell,” Washington said. “What I think kids still need to know is that because it’s legal (or decriminalized) in your state, if you go apply for a job, businesses still have the right to drug test you and can deny you, even if it’s legal. I don’t think they’re looking at that real world part of it. I think they’re just seeing the fascinating, beautiful, fun party part of it and not the fact that it really changes nothing if you want to be successful down the line.”

Washington suggests parents look up some resources before talking to their teen about marijuana so they can be better prepared for the conversation. She recommends visiting sites such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Drug Free Action Alliance.

For more information about how Harbor Behavioral Health can help, please visit Harbor.org.