Q:We recently discovered that our 16-year-old son has been smoking marijuana on a regular basis. We tested him with an over-the-counter drug test, but then we learned that teens have figured out how to beat these tests. One of our son’s friends, for example, was regularly tested at home, and the result was always negative despite the fact that he never stopped using. Also, do you think we should have our son go into counseling?
A:You’re right that many drug tests are not reliable, and teens have learned how to fool them. I searched the Internet for “fooling over-the-counter drug tests” and discovered that doing so requires no special expertise or anything more difficult to obtain than lemon juice or vinegar. Apparently, concealing marijuana use from over-the-counter tests is almost laughably easy. As one expert commented, drug testing has turned into a cat-and-mouse game. I’d recommend that you ask your son’s physician how you can go about enrolling your son in a reliable, professionally administered drug-testing program of the sort that’s used by the airline industry and law enforcement agencies.
In the meantime, fulfill your responsibility to the community by taking away your son’s driving privileges until he has passed at least one year of randomly administered tests. Make no mistake about it, marijuana and driving do not mix. In May 2016, AAA (American Automobile Association) reported that fatal automobile accidents involving drivers who had recently smoked pot doubled after Washington state legalized the drug. The additional problem is that your son may be especially susceptible to marijuana’s effects. It’s been discovered that impairment levels vary widely from person to person. I can’t emphasize enough: get him off the road!
Obviously, your son is running with a bunch of like-minded peers, which means that you should also apply appropriate restrictions to his social life. The message you send to him should be, “Find new friends, or we are your new friends.” Yes, he will probably be able to get around your restrictions to some extent, but restrictions in combination with random drug testing will be fairly effective.
Last but certainly not least, take away his lifeline to his current peer group. I’m talking about his smartphone. As I’ve said many, many times in this column and on my weekly radio show (American Family Radio, Saturdays, 6:00 P.M. ET), there’s no rational justification for giving a teen a smartphone. They are antisocial devices, and research has demonstrated that they induce physiological effects that are similar to those caused by addictive drugs.
Confiscate the current phone. Get a basic cell phone for him (believe it or not, most providers still carry them)—one that can’t access the Internet and doesn’t facilitate easy texting. Let him use it only on those occasions when you want to be able to get in touch with him or vice versa. And that’s all the cell-phone service most teenagers need anyway.
As for counseling, I don’t put much stock in it, especially when the patient is a teen who doesn’t want to be counseled in the first place. Don’t waste your—or your insurance plan’s—money.
None of this is going to be easy, but the eventual payoff is a child who is drug-free, whose friends are drug free, and who, because of no smartphone, has greatly improved social skills.
Hang in there!
Family psychologist John Rosemond is the director of the Center for Affirmative Parenting in Gastonia, North Carolina. For information about his talks and workshops, contact Tracy Owens-Jahn at firstname.lastname@example.org or (817) 295-1751.