My 12 year old son Ethan is learning about drugs in school as part of a drug awareness and prevention program. The goal of the program is to ensure our children understand the damaging affects drugs and alcohol can have on your mind and body, so they never abuse them despite social pressures. Sounds good, huh? But it’s clearly difficult to explain the difference between “use” and “abuse” to kids who are perfectly comfy in a world of absolutes where the good guys always do what’s right and the bad guys always do what’s wrong. Last night, I think I tarnished my good guy image in my son’s mind when he asked me straight up, “Mom, have you ever tried pot?” and I stopped for only a moment before saying, “Yes.”
Ethan is very passionate about his opinions on drug --an of course, tobacco is considered a very dangerous drug. When he sees a person smoking he is apt to say “Look at that dumb guy smoking! How gross!” When he was younger he did this without any self-editing. Now, that he is older, he realizes expressing his utter dismay this could hurt a smoker’s feelings. But despite not screaming it in stranger’s faces, he still feels a sense of shock and horror. I’m sure I must be part of the reason he is so anti-smoking biased. I’m not a smoker and I sure don’t want my kids to partake in this deadly and dirty habit. So, with the school as my partner, I’ve taught my son that smoking is a bad choice. And I stand by that.
Unfortunately, as a side effect, when it comes to smokers Ethan sees things as black and white. “Why does your friend Carolyn smoke?” he’s asked. “Is she stupid?!” And so, I’ve set out to teach him that making bad decisions doesn’t make you a bad person. It just makes you a person who made a bad decision. And it’s likely that most smokers regret ever starting the habit because it is a very hard habit to break. So, while it’s okay to dislike smoking, it’s not okay to dislike smokers. If anything, he should feel badly for them.
At the tender age of 12 he is more comfy seeing things as cut and dry. I was reminded of this when he was done giving me his Drug Awareness Inventory Test. He seemed a smidgen impressed that I scored 100%. I knew that smoking pot does not make you drive better and that drinking too much alcohol can be deadly. I was better prepared for the test than for Ethan’s question about my own drug use.
When he asked me if I liked it pot, I also told him the truth. “I hated the feeling of the hot smoke in my lungs.” When he asked me if I felt happy when I was high, I told him, “No, I never got high. I just got the munchies, which made me eat more.” Another truth.
He was clearly confused, running head on into a “Do as I say and not as I do” moment. There is a difference between drug use and drug abuse and I tried to explain this to him. “I was very curious and decided to try it,” I said. “If you decide to try it one day, it won’t make you a bad person either, Ethan.” He shook his head, “Well, I’m not going to!” Interestingly his 9-year old brother who is my mini-Quentin Tarantino, ball of creative energy, found the whole thing rather absurd. He didn’t get the big deal at all and said he was sure he would give it a try one day. (Note to self: Keep an eye on the midget in the Bob Marley t-shirt.)
So, I’m a parent who makes choices –good ones and bad ones. In this case, I chose to tell the truth. I could have gone the Bill Clinton route and waffled ala “I didn’t inhale.” But my gut told me that in the long run Ethan would respect my George Washington-like honesty. That said, his next question, which was screamed from down the hallway, took me a bit off-guard.
”Hey Mom, what’s this big blue plastic penis doing in your nightstand?!”
I didn’t hesitate for a moment.
“Ohhhhhh, that?! That was a joke gift my girlfriends gave me for my birthday, honey. Don't touch it!”
I’m just not ready for that discussion. In fact, I think I need a joint.