Help! Our Teen Smoked Pot!

The parent who sent me this message was seeking help with choosing the right punishment for her teen’s bad choice.  I advised her that punishment rarely works in teaching children valuable lessons and actually can backfire and cause more problems than what the parents started with.  In most cases, the only things that a punishment accomplishes are making the child fearful of the parent and to doing a better job of hiding the misbehavior the next time.

A more effective response to a child or teen’s bad choices is a consequence, rather than a punishment.  Consequences help a teen to make smarter choices and are healthier and more respectful forms of discipline.  The consequence can also be selected by both parent and teenager, and should be related directly to the misbehavior.  Over time, using more consequences instead of punishments can actually strengthen the relationship between the parent and the teen. 

If this was the first time that you caught your teen smoking marijuana, then I would urge you to implement a consequence immediately.  That consequence should be a revocation of your teen’s freedom to wander and roam without you knowing where he is and who he is spending time with.  You should attempt to ask him where and how he acquired the drug, or where he smoked it.  But don’t hold your breath (no pun intended); he will most likely NOT want to get his friends in trouble.

A typical first response of many parents (after the yelling and screaming) is to remove electronic devices, bar the child from going to dances, other school activities and sports events.  Don’t do that.  Stick with grounding him from the freedom to wander and only focus on examining how he was able to acquire the drug and smoke it without your knowledge in the first place.  This problem belongs to you, not your son.  You are responsible for his supervision; knowing where he goes and who he hangs out with.  He is a kid and you are the parent responsible for his actions.

Now I know some adults are going to respond by saying, “But we have to trust them and assume that our kids are going to make smart choices.”  Yes, that’s all true but trust must be earned, not automatically awarded.  Also, the age of the teen in question was under 15.  Trusting our teens to wander and roam should be done at an older age when they’ve had enough life experiences and lessons from you to have the ability to make smarter choices.


I’m amazed at the number of children and teens I see wandering my neighborhood alone and in groups late at night.  Perhaps they are not all up to mischief and their parents know exactly where they are.  But I’d be willing to bet that many parents don’t.  I saw a PSA on my television the other night that I had not seen in a very long time.  It contained simple white letters on a black background that read, “It’s Now 10 O’Clock.  Do You Know Where Your Children Are?”  Well… do YOU?

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