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A friend of mine, a successful professional, posed this parenting dilemma: Suppose your teenager asks you if you ever smoked pot.  Do you tell him the truth?  What if you smoked not just once, or a couple of times, but a fair amount? A whole lot? What if you tried cocaine?

Things are more dangerous now than they were back then, my friend continued. The pot is stronger.  Itís laced with all sorts of other drugs. You donít want your child to think that if you did it, then itís ok for them to do the same.  You donít want to take chances.  You have to lie.

Iíve thought this over, and I have to disagree. Iím mostly talking from my own personal experience.  For one thing, Iím a lousy liar. Bad at poker, too.  When I was a kid, I tried lying, I got caught, and I decided that the price was too high.  Itís not that Iím not tempted.  On the contrary, every day Iím faced with situations where a lie would come in handy (did I really get a good look at that eardrum hidden behind the wax?).  Iíve just come to believe that the truth has a way of coming out, sooner or later, and itís better sooner than later.

Children, Iíve learned, nearly always know more than their parents think they do.  I pretty regularly run into kids who were adopted and whose parents think itís a secret. It almost never is.  And parents who think their angry conflicts go unnoticed because they keep quiet until after bedtime.  The kids are rarely fooled.  With pot smoking and other teenage misbehavior, the story is likely to leak out eventually, in an overheard conversation or a comment dropped by a loose-lipped family friend.

Does this mean that you have to confess all to your children?  Of course not! Children donít ask what they donít want to know.  And a direct question doesnít always require an equally direct answer.  ďDid you smoke pot when you were in high school, mom?Ē ďThatís a fair question, but I donít think youíre ready yet for that discussion; weíll talk about it when youíre older.Ē Or: ďThatís a fair question, but I donít want to discuss it now.Ē

You can also respond with a question. When you do this, youíre not simply being evasive or nosy.  Youíre trying to find out what lies behind your childís question.  The discussion might go like this.


Child: ďMom, did you smoke pot when you were a kid?Ē

You: ďWhat makes you ask that now?Ē (or ďHow did that subject come up?Ē)

Child: ďSome of the kids were talking, and one of them said that everybody in high school smokes pot.Ē


Here the real question isnít, ďIs it ok for me to smokeĒ but, ďIs it ok for me not to smoke?Ē

But what if the question is really, Did you smoke?  And what if the truth is, Yes. Fessing up to past misbehavior is not the same as giving permission for it.  Most teens who are old enough to get their hands on drugs are old enough to understand on some level that drugs are dangerous.  And if the fear of being harmed by poisonous substances doesnít deter them, the thought that their parents never transgressed probably wonít either.  If you feel that drug taking is wrong, you can admit to having done it in the past, and still take a strong stance against it now.  That isnít being hypocritical.  We all do wrong things from time to time, and can all decide not to do them in the future.

Most importantly, when you tell a hard truth, you teach your children to trust you, and to tell the truth themselves.  There is no better way to teach this particular lesson.