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