Today is the twentieth day of April, an underground holiday among the pot-smoking community. This post constitutes the full extent of my observance. I address my fellow parents, church leaders, politicians, and authority figures on how we might credibly talk to our children about drugs.
The first thing we should acknowledge is that we, the adults in the room, largely lack credibility on this subject. Why? Because we’ve been lying about drugs, their effects, and the morality surrounding their use for generations.
In 1936, a church group funded the production of a propaganda film called Reefer Madness. The sex-addled violent behavior portraying the alleged results of pot use proves ridiculous to anyone who has actually partaken of the drug. It’s so over-the-top that the film has become a cult classic enjoyed primarily for its irony.
Unfortunately, in the generations since, the truth about drugs in general and marijuana in particular has rarely been portrayed to young people. Instead, we adults have served up fables and scare tactics, this fried egg is your brain on drugs and such. Smoke a joint, and you will surely become a loser, we have often claimed.
The problem is: Kids do smoke joints, and nothing happens. They get high. They have a good time. They get away with it. Then lo and behold, they stay in school, keep their job, graduate, and go on to live productive lives. The professed dangers of drugs are thus quickly perceived to be a ruse.
Consider what the discovery of this ruse does to the relationship between a young person and his authority figures. You lied to them. Worse, you lied to them about something that’s fun and relatively harmless. As a result, you’ve lost both credibility and respect, and not without cause. The result can often be a careless dismissal of any potential danger related to substance abuse. If Dad lied about pot, maybe he was lying about cocaine too, the inner monologue might go. It’s similar to the tendency of cult escapees to turn atheist. A bad experience with religion fosters an aversion toward it. Similarly, a bad experience with authority can foster an aversion to any offered wisdom.
My boys are still quite young. When the time eventually comes to talk with them about drugs, I plan to take an unconventional approach. I’m going to tell them the truth. Drugs are fun. They get you high, which enables you to have a good time. That’s why people use them. The problem is that the high is short-term, artificial, and can come at a cost. You’re not going to die from smoking a single joint. But you can develop a habit with repeated use which could hinder your ability to pursue true and lasting happiness.
The truth may be more awkward than a lie. Sharing it may not foster the same peace of mind as horror stories, or the same catharsis as threats of severe discipline. But it has the virtue of demonstrating credibility. The nice thing about being credible is, when your children do make mistakes, they might believe you have the wisdom to help.