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My 17 year old daughter is having sex, getting high, skipping school and staying out up to 2 nights without permission. Has anyone had a similar experience with positive results using this or another technique... please let me know... any programs you can recommend?
Adolescence is a time of tremendous change. Too often, adults and teens think the primary task of adolescence is separation. Many consider adolescent rebellion to be a necessary part of the separation process. Indeed, there is a need for teens to begin loosening the connections between themselves and their parents. But this separation is not the most important change required. Adolescence is also a time for forming new connections-to one's peers, to the world outside family, to one's sexuality, to the deeper experience of self coming into awareness, and to one's innate spiritual longings. Separation from family is necessary primarily to open up space for all the new connections teens must forge. Curiosity fuels the drive to find new relationships and to experience the world beyond the confines of home.
Adolescence is life's first really conscious voyage of discovery. Teens are aware that they are on a profoundly important voyage, and this conscious awareness helps in guiding the voyage. Some are terrified and try to remain moored to their home dock as long as possible. Others are cautious and take several short cruises first before striking out for more distant ports. Some respond to the challenge and sail out directly to find their fate, while others are so thrilled by the adventure lying just over the horizon that they charge out like dog soldiers high on adrenaline. Human temperament varies widely, making it nearly impossible to make any universal generalization about teenagers.
Still, we can be sure that the majority of teens who experiment with marijuana are motivated primarily by a desire to satisfy their innate curiosity about the world. Whether they first try pot with trepidation or rush headlong into the experience, they are intrigued by what lies ahead for them. It is one of a thousand ways they are trying on new parts of the world to see how each fits for them. While they may be ignoring or denying the risks, the motivation propelling them is essentially healthy.
In many cases, however, adolescents are motivated to try drugs more by a desire to get away from home than to reach any given destination. Poverty, whether emotional, spiritual, or financial, has parched their family and grown sharp thorns on what should be comforting relationships. Cruelty, whether emotional, spiritual, physical, or sexual, has scorched away any desire for family, leaving some kids to stow away on whatever ship they can find. Family problems often contribute tremendously to the urge to find solace in alcohol and other drugs.
Finally, some adolescents are so discomforted by their own sense of failure and internal distress that the distraction that drugs offer is too powerful to resist. Depression and anxiety can bedevil teenagers just as deeply as they torment adults. The stress that kids bear today is far beyond any that most of us experienced during our youth. Success in college seems to be predicated on getting into the correct kindergarten. No wonder that any hint of a learning disorder or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) plummets kids into feeling defective and doomed (see chapter 5). Whatever offers any hope of relief from these stressors is bound to be welcome.
Adolescence, then, is a time of fundamental transformation in perspective, basic connections, and identity. Because this process of transformation takes place over several years, impatience and urgency are common, if not legendary, among teenagers. The experience of being “all dressed up with no place to go” pervades the adolescent's life, especially sexually. Having a driver's license but not owning a car symbolically defines the teen years. On a more abstract level, teens often have a fully formed concept of independence and freedom but still lack some of the basic tools to realize this goal. It is human nature for them to focus more on the barriers placed on their freedom than on the preparatory tasks that lie ahead of them.
It is within this maelstrom of powerful forces that drugs are first encountered, and their effects can be profoundly seductive. The French novelist Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” I suspect that this advice applies more to wearied adults than to fresh teens, for whom seeking new landscapes is precisely their most important challenge. Their recently developed abstract thinking is all the new eyes they need. Now their job is to seek new landscapes that satisfy their own unique needs and desires and then to connect emotionally to these new vistas.
Marijuana provides much more of the “new eyes” that Proust describes than the “new landscapes” that teens need. Suddenly, with a minimum of effort, a little pot overlays the world with a superficial sense of novelty. Being high seems to transform everything and passively grants teens an experience of great connectedness. This new world is probably nothing like the one Mom and Dad live in, so an immediate sense of separation appears. Almost magically, marijuana seems to leapfrog an adolescent away from childhood. The chemically induced experience substitutes for actual, hard-won psychological development, and it can continue to substitute for emotional growth for years. While giving a teen an illusion of having jumped ahead in development, marijuana, like any drug, can actually delay and distort maturation. The chronic pot smoker may wake one day to find that peers have long ago embarked successfully into their adult lives, leaving him or her behind, without the skills required to move ahead.
Before looking at how the experience of being high on marijuana can substitute for successfully completing developmental tasks, I want to take a moment to point out that as parents we face our own developmental challenges as our children pass through adolescence. After years of taking direct responsibility for managing the risks facing our children, we now need to begin stepping back. If teens are to begin taking greater responsibility for themselves, we have to make space for this to happen. Except in situations that threaten basic health and safety, we gradually have to move into the role of consultants to our kids' lives, where before we had been producer and director. The timing of this shift in roles is critical and difficult. While some of us turn too much freedom and responsibility over to our children too soon, others hold on too long. There is no perfection here, only trial and error.
Shifting into the role of consultant goes beyond a change in child-rearing techniques. It represents a developmental step for the parent as well. Impulses to overcontrol the world that went unchecked during our child's early life suddenly become the focus of intense power struggles with adolescents. To pick battles wisely, we parents need clarity about what lies under our control and what does not. We need to have enough self-worth to feel valuable to our children even when we've been relegated to the sidelines of their lives. It helps to be solid in our faith, whatever form that might take. Without faith that the universe provides the support teens need to mature into healthy adults, the next few years are going to be filled with anxiety. It is a rare parent who understands that anxiety about his or her teen is not the teen's fault. Anxiety about the normal process of separating from our partially-matured teenage child is our responsibility. It is not the child's job to soothe our fears or our dislike of “losing our babies.”
The initial experimentation with smoking grass is often a watershed moment in a child's life. Despite all the antidrug messages received in school and at home, many teens and preteens decide to take the risk of getting high soon after the opportunity first presents itself. This single act is a clear step away from the path prescribed by most parents. In households where the importance of not using drugs has been emphasized, it is a direct act of disobedience. (We're ignoring for the moment kids who are introduced to smoking marijuana by their parents, either directly or by dipping into their parents' stash to get their first joint.) Trying marijuana for the first time is also an act of self-assertion. The child has weighed the issue, more or less carefully, and come to his or her own decision. At this point, teens do not doubt that they are charting their own course. They are claiming their freedom, and no one can control them. That's a fact.
An adolescent's decision to smoke marijuana is often seen very differently by the two sides-parents and kids. The disparity in how each perceives this moment is important, because it forms the framework for a lot of failed prevention programs and a lot of unsuccessful family discussions. Author David Wilmes asked each group why they believe kids use drugs and found some interesting differences (Facts about Kids' Use of Alcohol and Other Drugs). Adults gave the following reasons:
• School: “Can't those teachers see what's going on? Don't the kids get any supervision?”
• Other parents: “Well, what can you expect from a home like that?”
• Peer group: “My kids never had any problems till they got in with that bunch.”
• Pushers or alcohol sales: “Put the pushers in jail and close up those sleazy places.”
• Media: “What can you expect when the movies take it for granted that it's cool to use drugs?”
• Police: “If the cops were on the ball, they'd pick up those kids the first time they got out of line.” Or “If the cops wouldn't hound the kids as if they were all criminals, they wouldn't even think of using drugs.”
• Role models: “Those rock stars are all into drugs-just like professional athletes. And these are the people our kids want to imitate.”
These reasons generally point to external factors. Perhaps parents are reluctant to believe that their children would willfully defy them unless they were being pressured by others. Parents tend to place great emphasis on peer pressure as the cause of adolescent drug use. As a result, programs designed to prevent drug use are heavily weighted toward helping kids resist peer pressure. This perspective is guided by the belief that drug pushers are lurking around every corner, waiting for our kids. Without these pushers, teens would follow their instincts and mind their parents.
But teens tell a different story. When asked why they think kids use drugs, teens gave the following reasons:
• “I wanted to see how I'd feel.”
• “I wanted to be part of the group.”
• “I didn't want to be a nerd.”
• “I just wanted to have some fun.”
• “I like to take risks.”
• “I'm no baby. I can make up my own mind.”
• “I like to experiment with new things.”
• “I wanted to feel grown up.”
Unlike adults' perspectives, these reasons are more internal. While teens may be underestimating the presence and power of peer pressure, they are also owning responsibility for their decisions to a degree greater than adults seem willing to give them credit for. This is completely consistent with the need teenagers have to take control of their lives. They are intrigued by the wide world, including sometimes by what the experience of being high would feel like, and they even enjoy the risk it might entail. No one thinks it odd when a teen courts the risk of rock climbing, sailboarding, or fast driving. These risky behaviors may make us nervous, but we see them as normal adolescent behavior, part of defining for themselves what their limits are. The impulse to experiment with marijuana has the same lure as other risky choices.
Understanding adolescents' perspectives is an important step to being able to communicate with teens. The temptations that attract them and the desires resident in their hearts form part of the cutting edge by which they learn their true identity. Adolescence is an important time for beginning to come to terms with adult desires. From this standpoint, teens are teaching us something important when they list the internal reasons for using drugs. As parents, however, we are often made nervous by the fact that this is occurring precisely when our kids are developing the capacity and freedom to satisfy these desires if they choose. And one simple, available, and relatively passive avenue for exploring their newfound desires is through experimenting with marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs.