Smoking Pot … and Calling the Kettle Black

By Scott Pettersen

Many parents who grew up in the ’60s and ’70s have themselves used marijuana or other drugs, and now find themselves in a “Do as I say, not as I have done” situation. So how do you deal with a teen that is aware of a parent’s own experiences with drugs or alcohol, without sounding like a first-class hypocrite? What do you say if your child asks you point-blank whether you’ve had those experiences?

According to San Jose family therapist Mary Leigh Abraham, it’s not necessary to divulge the gory details, but it’s also important not to set an example for dishonesty or denial. It should be enough to simply say, “Yes, I made some choices in my life when I was young that I’m not proud of, and I suffered consequences as a result. I don’t want you to make the same mistakes.”

Parents who are still drinking or using drugs have a much harder time. In fact, some parents who send their children to treatment should be looking in the mirror first, says Dr. Stephen Stein, a certified addictionologist and the director of criminal justice medical services for the County of Santa Cruz. 

“A young person doesn’t become chemically dependent in a vacuum,” Stein says. “There’s always a family dynamic that needs to be looked at. That’s why it’s so important that the parents participate in any program of recovery. If the parents don’t participate, the child is not going to get better.”

Even parents who do not have the disease should consider the importance of a total clean-and-sober environment for a chemically dependent family member. According to Abraham, “I encourage parents to ask themselves, from the family system point of view, what do we want to promote in this family? What model are we presenting?”