Parenting and drugs: ultimatums aren't everything

Parenting teenagers when drug use is an issue can be challenging and emotional. In this blog, we look at one of the most common calls to our cannabis helpline and provide some small insights that may go a long way.

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At NCPIC we offer a variety of tools and resources to help people better understand cannabis, its effects and how to deal with their own use, or the use of others. Our Cannabis Info line is a drug helpline, delivered with the support of our friends at Lifeline, and is one way we reach out to the community and provide that extra listening ear, or shoulder to lean on, for people who need it. And while we do have a lot of people with personal drug use issues calling through, one of our biggest caller groups is actually parents of people of all ages, who are using and typically having problems with cannabis.

Parenting a cannabis user, especially someone who is addicted to the drug, isn’t easy. Sure, there are a lot of people who shrug their shoulders at this drug use, call it soft and no big deal, or even just label use as a phase that people get over, but when it’s in your house, affecting your child it’s a way different story. As parents, one of the things we do most is worry. We worry about things that have happened to our kids, we worry about them now – what they’re doing, who with and how it effects them, and we worry about their future. We think about what we want for them, and the victories or mistakes that could completely change the options and opportunities they may have. It is partly this worry that drives parents to give us a call at the Cannabis helpline. So what can we tell them that can help?

Raising children: all kids (and parents) are different

Sometimes, if you’ve tried everything, and you feel like you’re at your wit's end, you just need someone to talk to. Sometimes you’re also looking for someone to give you a solution. The problem with the latter is that everyone is different, and every situation is different, so there is no ‘one size fits all’ solution, especially when it comes to dealing with drug use. And while this may sound disappointing, it can also be a positive.

Many people who are going through an experience like parenting a young or heavy cannabis user will often seek advice from family friends or others who have been through it. They’ll hear, ‘You should do this’, ‘This worked for me’, ‘Have you given this a go’… and so that’s what they do. They try the things that everyone else suggests and feel let down if they don’t work for them. But the truth is, the fact that every child and situation is different means your solution or approach is likely going to also be unique to your situation. Often, the best service someone can offer is not lecturing you about raising children, but helping you think about your circumstances and work through a possible solution that will best suit you and your family.

Ultimatums aren’t everything when parenting teenagers

One of the responses we often come across is the go-to, ‘Stop using or you’re out of here’, ‘If I find you’ve been using, you will not be leaving your room for a month’ and so on and so forth, every ultimatum you can imagine. And perhaps ultimatums are a technique that can work for you and your child, if you have used them successfully in the past and applied the consequences consistently. But they don’t work for everyone, and if setting a strong ultimatum isn’t your style or something you’re comfortable with, it isn’t something you should feel you have to do to get through this situation. It also isn’t something advising family and friends should push you into.

While ultimatums may work for some who are parenting teenagers, for others they can cause a greater divide, further isolation and a breakdown of trust and communication. The National Drug Strategy Household Survey reports most young people who ever try cannabis (which is less than you think!), do so around age 16 for the first time, meaning troublesome use may come some stage after this. If you think about 16 year olds in general, sending out a strong, unwavering and uncompromising ‘DON’T OR ELSE,’ message is not often going to be met with a positive response. So rather than going for the obvious, consider your other options.

Parenting advice: so what else can you do?

One of our biggest messages to parents is that there are always many options available to you – so it’s just a matter of finding which one is right for you – and sometimes that takes a few attempts! Some ways of approaching your child’s cannabis use – without going down the ultimatum track include:

  • Start by listening. Sure, at this point maybe your kids aren’t big talkers; if they’re teen boys they may be more grunters or groaners – but that doesn’t mean you can’t give it a go – try to let them explain their story and listen and take it on board. While you may not agree with everything your child says, and some of it may even seem frustrating, giving them a chance to talk, without judgement or interruption, is important. Now, before you get disheartened, this isn’t raising children on Home and Away or Neighbours; just because you decide to sit to talk, doesn’t mean they’ll unravel their personal stories for you. This method can take time: listening, building trust over smaller conversations and proving you’re prepared to really put in an effort to hear them out. Once you do, and if it’s effective, the more open relationship may provide you a chance to offer them support, help them find information about their use, or guide them in dealing with any underlying problems that may be triggering use.
  • Work together. Another option is being honest, acknowledging the situation and telling them how it makes you feel, while offering them the option to work together to make things better – whether addressing drug use or your relationship in general. This approach requires a commitment to meeting half way, to making an effort to take a measured approach in communication, and collaborating on planned solutions, while setting realistic boundaries (remember you’re a parent not a mate!).
  • Get some help, or introduce a third party. If you think your relationship is such that maybe the best option for you is not to tackle this problem yourself, it may be wiser to bring in a third party to help out. This third party may be someone your child knows and trusts – a family member or friend, teacher, old sports coach – and may have a better chance to communicate more openly with your child during this part of their lives.

The bottom line for all those parents who seek out a drug helpline when at their wit's end, is that there are always more options. There are different approaches and methods and just because nothing has worked well for you and your child yet, doesn’t mean nothing will, it just means you haven’t found the right option yet. Our Cannabis Helpline (1800 30 40 50), which is manned by trained specialists who are fantastic listeners, is available should you need someone to listen, advise or just to vent. We also have some great bulletins about parental styles and monitoring here, which can provide some good advice for effective parenting methods, and our handy book, ‘Talking with a young person about cannabis’.

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