While walking to the self-checkout at Walmart the other day, my son and I passed through an area that smelled very strongly of marijuana. Showing my age, I mentioned it smelled like we had just walked through a Cheech and Chong movie. Of course, my son had no idea what I was talking about. But on the way home, he said, “You experimented with marijuana in high school, right?”
“Yes,” I answered. I told him that I had first smoked pot when I was 13 and had smoked it several times in high school. I never really liked it, I admitted, but my usage was born out of rebellion, like most things I did back then.
As a parent, my job is to keep my son safe
My son is a junior in high school and has not touched alcohol or other drugs. He has Asperger’s and is very frank and direct in his conversations, so I’m confident he will tell me if he ever does. But with teenagers, things can change quickly.
As a parent, particularly as the parent of a special-needs child, I consider it my job to keep my son safe. And part of that job is to help him make the right decisions. I’ve always tried to be honest with my son about my past. To do otherwise, I believe, would be hypocritical. I remember how much teenagers loathe a hypocrite from my younger years. If you lie to your child and they find out, they’ll hold it against you forever. And they will find out because teens sniff out lies like bloodhounds.
I made a lot of mistakes in my teenage years. Probably more than most kids. I want to use my experiences, good and bad, to help guide my son through his turbulent teenage years. My mistakes and regrets are probably more valuable in this regard than the things I’m proud of.
I find it best to tell him the whole story. Not details — he doesn’t need to know the name of who I first got high with behind the gazebo before a junior high school dance. I try to express my honest thoughts and opinions about what I have and haven’t done.
I am honest with my son about my history with alcohol
I’ve been honest with him about my history with alcohol and what I’ve learned. Both of my parents were alcoholics. Alcoholism runs in our family, putting him at greater risk of becoming dependent. He’s never seen me drunk. But I drank heavily for many years before I met my wife.
As with marijuana, I started young, when I was around thirteen. When my son recently asked if I’ve ever had a hangover, I told him I had had thousands of hangovers. He stared at me in surprise and with some disappointment. Sometimes it isn’t easy to sugarcoat the truth.
There are a lot of bad things that can happen from drinking. One night of drinking, one mistake, can change your life and the lives of others forever. But you can also have a lot of fun drinking. If it weren’t fun, teenagers wouldn’t want to do it.
I explain how quickly alcohol pulled me in
When talking with my son, I made clear that I often had fun when drinking. And that’s what is so dangerous about it. I had lots of friends who drank, too. But they could take it or leave it — just routine teenage experimentation. For me, I loved it from the first sip. Well, maybe not the first sip. It tasted awful. But alcohol pulled me in quickly.
He understands the risks as well as I do. Maybe better because he spends much time researching the impact of alcohol and other drugs on the brain. He plans to be a psychologist, and it seems he will be very prepared.
He and my wife, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in counseling, have long conversations about what drugs do to certain parts of the brain. They sometimes use me as an example. Not sure how I feel about that, but I suppose it’s nice of them to include me.
I don’t pretend to know everything. The information I’m giving him is a more personal experience than facts gathered from research. Maybe my experiences can help him. I wish someone had taken me aside to give me an honest talk when I was younger. I wish I’d felt loved and confident enough to ask the difficult questions that most teenagers have. I can’t change the past, but I can try to change the future. My son’s future.
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