Dear Dr. Poussaint:
Perhaps you as a psychiatrist can help my husband and myself as well as other parents.
Our son, who is 16 now, has just wasted his sophomore year in high school. He threw 10 months of education, respect, trust and faith out the window.
He became involved with some boys around the neighborhood with marijuana. We found out and grounded him for the summer, last summer. We truly felt he was on his normal path again.
Last September he started his sophomore year at the neighborhood high school. He was only in school for two weeks during the months of September, October, November and December. It was the same old problem of marijuana, with skipping school now involved.
The school's vice principal and social worker tried to help. It was fine for a few months. And then, boom -- the same old path of marijuana and skipping school. He has failed every subject and now must attend summer school. He still sees those same friends as they live in the neighborhood.
My husband and I find that we can no longer trust our son nor talk to him anymore. He keeps telling us we don't understand.
How can we and other parents with the same problem help our children? We love our son, but the tension in our home is constantly there. I have younger children to think about. Must we put our son into the hands of the courts? Parents with hope but nowhere to turn. Dear Parents with hope:
The problem you have with your son is a serious one and is obviously causing you and your family a great deal of stress.
Your 16-year-old son's problem with marijuana and school is not an uncommon one these days. Perhaps the most common questions from parents of teen-agers concern the misuse of drugs, particularly marijuana and alcohol. Often this abuse is associated with poor performance and motivation in school, which frequently results in a failure or drop-out.
Yet it's not always correct to link drugs and poor school performance in a cause-and-effect manner. Studies have indicated that many successful students in high school are marijuana smokers. In other words, the drug alone doesn't lead to failure. (However, some investigators report that very heavy users may develop a motivational syndrome characterized by passivity, apathy and a lack of drive.)
Students who already lack an interest in school or who are plagued with tension by the possibility of school failure may turn to drugs as a means of release and escape. Was your son having school problems before he started to smoke marijuana? If so, the real problem and its solution doesn't lie solely in curtailing his use of marijuana.
It's necessary, in any case, to explore his attitudes toward school and his future, independently of the drug issue. Does he lack motivation? If so, why? Is he confused about his future? Are his school subjects too difficult for him? Does he need a counselor or a tutor? How are his study habits? How does he get along with his teachers and classmates? What are some of his interests and needs that he feels are not being met? These and others are the types of questions that must be explored in order to select the proper help for your son.
The marijuana smoking may actually represent his sense of defeat or it may merely be a way of testing his adulthood and ensuring peer acceptance.
For better or for worse, marijuana smoking is very common today, particularly among young people and shouldn't be viewed with complete horror. The issue to consider regarding your son is whether he is smoking marijuana in excess just as you would be concerned about whether your son was a social drinker or an alcoholic.
Your son complains that you don't understand. Perhaps it would be helpful for you to hear him out in order to aid you in gaining more insight into the matter. Rejecting his views will drive him further away and deprive him of your support which he desperately needs. It wouldn't be helpful to treat him as a criminal. In fact, taking him to court might make the situation worse by causing him to feel more worthless and stigmatized.
Your son and the rest of the family may be in need of help. A family therapist is often quite helpful with a problem of your type because mechanisms may be operating in family interactions that prevent a solution.