Starting right around the year 2000, I began noticing an interesting trend. Moms and Dads were bringing their teens in for treatment with me and they were identifying things like: anger management, failing grades, or a bad attitude as the presenting problem. As I got to know the teenager, it was revealed that he or she was smoking marijuana on a fairly regular basis. Mystery Solved! As a counselor, I am ecstatic. I have figured out what the problem is, now all we have to do is treat it, and the problem will reverse itself. The teen will become better at anger management, and their grades and their attitude will improve.
So, I begin addressing the problem. I talk to them about their drug usage and how it affects their mood, motivation, socialization patterns, health, energy, legal record, college or military future, and try to assess how willing they are to address the problem. It used to be that the teens I saw would be fairly embarrassed by their usage, they would try to downplay how much they were using, or they would lie about it altogether, but the environment has changed.
Now when teens report their use of ‘weed,’ they mention it casually, as if they’re reporting how often they’ve been to the library. They speak of it as if it’s very socially acceptable and not anything they’re worried about anyone discovering. They aren’t afraid to be caught with it on their person or in their lockers at school, they aren’t worried their parents will find their stash or their paraphernalia in their rooms. They proudly wear marijuana leaf symbols on shirts, hats, or draw leaves on their notebooks or shoes or they use a pot leaf as their cellphone screensaver.
What’s going on that no one is afraid to get caught with marijuana anymore? Several things. First, laws medicalizing and decriminalizing marijuana are sending a widescale message that marijuana is not as harmful as other drugs and should not be treated as such. Next, kids are routinely being caught with pot at school and in public places and not much is happening to them other than a slight slap on the hand. Finally, and this one is the most important, today’s parents routinely accept marijuana use as a normal and natural part of adolescence and may still be using marijuana regularly themselves.
I discovered this when I started trying to get kid’s parents involved in the drug treatment programs I intended to offer their children. Parents would actually look at me and say, “What’s a little weed?” or “I didn’t bring him here for that, I brought him here for his anger,” or “What does that have to do with anything?” At first, I just thought I had encountered one or two crazy parents, but I have heard these messages coming out of parents now for so long that I must accept that there is a prevailing opinion among many 30-40 year old parents.
Trace it back. Young people in the 60’s in the United States started using a wide variety of drugs and engaging in controversial sexual behavior. About 10 years later, some of them had moved on from that phase, but many were still involved in a drug and casual relationship culture. Children started to come out of those relationships and in the 80’s, those children were teenagers, being parented by adult ‘flower children.’ Teens in the 80’s were taught to value themselves, be assertive, and to do ‘what feels right.’ To many, marijuana ‘felt right.’ Fast forward 20 years and those folks are now parents. They had few limits set on them and they set even fewer for their kids. Marijuana is seen as something normal and natural for kids to use and parents are not alarmed that there are 13 year old kids smoking pot daily. Their attitude is, “What’s a little weed?”
That attitude merely raises the bar. This article is not about whether or not marijuana is bad or whether or not it should be legalized. This article is just reporting that the prevailing attitude is not anti-marijuana. In that case, kids that really want to rebel and do something of which their parents would not approve, just have to try that much harder. A little weed sure isn’t going to do it. They’ve got to move on to coke, heroin, ecstasy, or crystal meth, and they are. So, when adults have the attitude, “What’s a little weed?” we’re just encouraging our youth to up the ante, and trust me, they will.