MomsOnMonday: Prep for Parenting Your Modern Family

Posted on January 19th, 2015, 0 Comments

Modern Family: Season 6, Episode 12, The Big Guns

Haley Smells a Party

Most of tonight’s episode took place over at the Dunphy’s where new neighbors Ronnie and Amber (the ones who own a chain of medical marijuana stores) are causing more grief. This time they’ve stored a huge, eyesore of a boat decked out with gambling symbols in their driveway. After attempts at charm (including homemade banana bread) fail, the Dunphys call in “the big guns” to give the neighbors a taste of their own medicine.
Phil: We see your boat, and we raise you a convoy of retirees.

The convoy turns out to be Phil’s dad, Frank, and a couple of his friends. They make a detour in their cross-country RV tour to stop-by the neighborhood as back-up. However, the plan backfires when Claire and Phil find them partying on the neighbor’s boat.
Phil: Guys, we appreciate all your help, but you probably shouldn’t be up there.
Ronnie (popping up with beer bottle in hand): Hey, I don’t mind.
Claire (sniffing the air): Is that weed I smell?
Phil (to Ronnie): Wait! You gave ‘em pot?!
Ronnie: No. I run a legitimate business. I’m not going to risk it for that (pointing to partying retirees): They brought their own.
Phil: Dad?!
Frank: Not me, son.
Frank’s friend: It’s me and Victor. Makes my arthritis feel better.
Victor: And I’m in remission – from being lame (laughing).

Ronnie hands Frank a beer while Amber passes around a platter of pigs-in-a-blanket.
Phil: What are you guys doing? You’re supposed to be annoying them!
Ronnie (clinking glasses with Frank): These guys could never annoy me.
Frank: Sorry, son. Turns out Ronnie is a fellow army man. Plus, at our age, it’s tough not to like someone who pays attention to us.

The Framework
For parents (like the Dunphys) intent on keeping their teens from using marijuana, the task keeps getting more complicated. Because California (where Ronnie and Amber have set up shop) is not the only state to have legalized pot for medical use. Twenty-two other states have done so. Four states have gone even further – legalizing pot for adult recreational use. And several more states are likely to legalize use in the next couple years.

The legalization movement is sending many teens (and some parents) the message that marijuana is harmless. And this is not at all the message we want our kids to hear.

To be clear, there are potential medical benefits, including easing pain and nausea for those who are ill (like the retiree in tonight’s episode with arthritis or the one with cancer). And moderate marijuana use may pose little risk for healthy adults. But a growing body of evidence indicates that for teens nothing could be further from the truth.

There is strong evidence of negative short-term effects of marijuana use by teens. While teens are high, marijuana:
– Impairs their short-term memory, making it difficult for them to learn and retain information
– Impairs their motor coordination, interfering with their driving skills and increasing the risk of injury
– Impairs their judgment, increasing the chance that they’ll engage in risky sexual behaviors that facilitate transmission of sexually transmitted diseases

In addition, a growing body of research indicates that repeated marijuana use in adolescence may result in long-term problems. In fact, recent research shows that teens who use marijuana regularly before they reach 17 are more likely to:
– Become addicted – with 17% who begin use in adolescence becoming addicted and 25 to 50% of teens who use daily becoming addicted
– Have altered brain development in terms of shape, size and structure in parts of their brains that have long been linked to motivation, emotion, rewards, and addiction – with the greater amount of marijuana smoked, the greater the brain abnormalities
– Drop out of school
– Have cognitive impairments and lowered IQs
– Experience diminished life satisfaction and achievement when compared with the general population

Haley (coming out of the house carrying a large bag of Doritos): Hey! Smells like a party!
Claire: Back inside.
Haley (annoyed): Okay, then.

By simply sending Haley inside, Claire is missing an important opportunity. This is not the first time that Haley has shown more than a passing interest in the new neighbors and their line of work. Yes, Haley is now 21, but she’s still living with her parents – giving them a bigger window into her life and more leverage for influencing and taking action if needed.

What’s a Mom to Do?
Look for natural opportunities to have ongoing conversations with your teen about marijuana use. (For more tips on talking with teens about drinking and drug use, click here.)

If you suspect your teen is using, or if you’re instincts are telling you that something is wrong, it’s time to say something. Even if you think they’re just experimenting and have no hard evidence, you can and should start the conversation. This is about their health and safety so you must not look the other way.

Voice your concerns objectively and speak calmly, using specific observations and details. You might say something as simple as: “I’ve noticed that (you don’t seem like yourself lately, your group of friends has changed, your good grades are slipping, you smelled like marijuana smoke when you came home last night – whatever it is that has caused you to be concerned). And I need you to hear me say that I love you too much to not be worried about you. Please think carefully about the choices you’re making and let me know if I can help.” Saying this let’s you build a case if their worrisome behavior continues. So say this and then quietly monitor them for use.

If you have evidence of one event of drug use, try to remain calm. Your teen needs your sturdy presence more than ever. Try to hold in mind that one occasion of use is not the end of the world. On the positive side, because you found out, you now have a chance to deal with the issue in a way that is much more effective than lecturing to a nonuser.
Don’t confront your teen while they are under the influence. Your conversation won’t be productive (or remembered) if your teen is high. So if they come home high, let them know that you noticed, that you’re concerned, and that you’ll meet with them the next day about the issue.
Prepare for the conversation beforehand. Before talking with your teen make sure you’re on the same page as your parenting partner. This means agreeing to present a united front to your teen. Even if you don’t agree on the issue, you’ll be much more effective as a team. Also prepare yourself for your teen’s reaction. No teen is going to be happy to be approached about their drug use. Click here for more on what to expect and specific tips on responding.
As you talk with your teen, stick with the facts. Tell them what you found or found out – and tell them that it’s part of your job as their mom to do all you can to make sure they stay safe. Tell them you love them too much not to fight them over drug use. And that you won’t give up on this one.
If you have addiction in the family, acknowledge its significance. Trying drugs a time or two is part of many teens’ experience. But if addiction runs in your family, this experimenting is much riskier for your teen – and your teen needs to be reminded of this. Don’t be afraid to use family stories to remind your teen of the history and the hurt addiction has caused as you caution them to be especially careful so that they don’t develop similar problems.
Look at the big picture. Instead of jumping to judgment by blaming their friends or seeing this as a huge character flaw, ask yourself why a good kid would do this. Probe for this in your conversations with your teen and with other sources. Consider both dispositional factors (things like stress, depression, impulsivity, wanting to fit-in, and their propensity for risk taking). And consider situational factors (like poorly understood expectations and too little monitoring).
Be very leery of their insistence that this was a first time use. Teens tend to be very good at minimizing and distorting their involvement with trouble. So consider your teen’s explanation but remember two things: 1) It’s pretty simple for a teen to escape detection if they’re careful and conscientious. So if you catch your teen, they’re getting sloppy in their precautions. 2) The pot, the bongs, and other paraphernalia in your teen’s possession will always belong to their friends.
Follow up on your conversations with consequences that will keep the boundary line between right and wrong clear. Tell your teen that to you drug use indicates a level of irresponsibility that disqualifies them from privileges such as driving, extended curfews, and sleepovers. But remember that any consequences should provide a clear and reasonable path for re-earning your trust and their privileges.
Keep your parent radar way up. A second offence warrants a risk assessment by a professional.

Your Parenting Experiences
A while back I attended a forum for parents of teens in a nearby community. A big, burly officer from the local police department was on the panel. He shared stories about parents who’ve called him with worries that something bad was going on with their kids. But these parents weren’t acting on their worries. Why? Because they were concerned about invading their kids’ privacy. His advice to parents: “Teens don’t have privacy. They’re kids. If you’re reluctant to do a search, I’ll do it for you. There’s nothing like having a big guy like me going through your underwear.”

What do think about this advice? Would you call in the big guns to snoop through your teens’ things? (For more on snooping, click here.)

Sources and Resources: Intervention eBook: What to do if your child is drinking or using drugs; “Adverse Health Effects of Marijuana Use” by N. D. Volkow, M.D., R. D. Baler, Ph.D., W. M. Compton, M.D., & S. R. B. Weiss, Ph.D. in the New England Journal of Medicine (June, 2014); “Drugs: the Dos and Don’ts” in Yes, Your Teen is Crazy by M. J. Bradley

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