I was talking with a stoned-teenager one afternoon in a park, as he drew deeply on his joint (marijuana cigarette). With a drug-using, pot-smoking background myself, I’m not uncomfortable speaking about my faith with people in moderate stages of intoxication. As a matter of fact, folks can be quite open to speaking about spiritual things, when they’ve got a bit of buzz-on. If God provides an opportunity, why not? I’m in a conversation with a guy in a park.
I tell him that I left the stoner-lifestyle and gave my life to Jesus. He’s amused and comments, “God made pot-plants, didn’t He? He must want us to smoke it.” I’d heard someone else use this come-back, so I gave it a try. “Very true,” I said. “But God made Poison Ivy too, I don’t think He wants us to roll around in it.” We had a good laugh together and I think he got my drift.
As of July 1, 2018, it’ll be legal to smoke Marijuana in Canada. Some parents think the government idea is half-baked and likely to have a negative impact on kids and teens in our country. According to Catarina Vitt, Communications Coordinator for the Addictions Foundation of Manitoba, parents are already asking how the legalization of pot might affect their children. Some want to know what they should do to prepare their kids for July 1 (CBC News, “Now It’s Ok”, Nov. 11/17). I’ve also heard parents asking questions and expressing concerns like, “how can we keep our kids from smoking pot, when our government says it’s fine?” If you’ve been thinking about the effects of pot-legalization on your kids, you might find some of the following ideas both challenging and encouraging.
A number of years ago, the Search Institute engaged in some fascinating research with teenagers. In their study they were able to identify 40 Developmental Assets. They found that the teens with a higher number of Assets were less likely to be involved in high-risk behaviours like: drugs use, crime, smoking, and sexual behaviour. Teens with fewer Assets, were more likely to be involved with these and/or other high-risk behaviours. You can find the Developmental Assets at: www.search-institute.org. This research revolutionized the way I worked with kids engaged in high-risk behaviour. My practice had been to try to help them decrease or stop their self-destructive practices, but it seldom worked. After studying this research, it dawned on me that the more effective way to help teens live well, was to find a way to increase their Assets. The moral of the story is clear: don’t try to talk a teenager out of using pot, strengthen their Assets!
Keep Looking for Ways to Connect
I know, connecting with teenagers isn’t always easy, but as the adults in the equation, we must find ways to connect. If you doubt the importance of connection as a deterrent to pot-smoking, I invite you to listen to the intriguing TED-Talk by Johann Hari titled, “Everything you think you know about addiction is wrong.” In his address, he talks about a research project conducted with rats. Two water bottles are put into the rat-cage, one is pure water, while the other is laced with Heroin. Alone in the cage, the rat drinks from the Heroin bottle until it dies, reinforcing the thinking that drugs are habit-forming. Dr. Bruce Alexander noticed that the experiment was conducted with a lone rat in an empty cage. He wondered how the results might change, if the rat had a more enjoyable environment with other rats to play with, so he built rat-park. The park had balls to play with, lots of food, and lots of rat-friends. It also had the same two water-bottles. In the first experiment, 100% of the rats kill themselves by Heroin overdose, but when they’re put into rat-park, 0% of the rats die. As a matter of fact, very few even drink from the drugged water. Dr. Alexander concludes that the opposite of addiction is not sobriety, it’s connection.
In his TED-Talk, Johann Hari tells the audience that human beings have a natural need to bond and connect with each other, but when they can’t do that, they find other – less healthy – things to bond with. “It might be gambling, pornography, cocaine, or cannabis, but you’ll bond and connect with something, because that’s our nature. That’s what we want as human beings.” This research speaks volumes to all who are parents and caregivers of children and teens. It’s not the legalization of pot that should scare you, it’s the lack of connection.
Writing to the Church in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul encourages the believers to “be careful how they live” (5:15). He will go on to write, “Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit” (NLT). Modeling wisdom for our kids means living carefully. In the words of Jesus, this means a daily practice of dying to self (Matt. 10:39) that we might truly discover what it means to be alive. Use of marijuana for intoxication is a trap that leads to a loss of self-control and, like drunkenness due to wine, is a poor substitute for what will give us life: the filling of God’s Spirit. If we’re going to lead the way as parents, we need to practice modelling the wisdom we’re preaching, only then will teens begin to take us seriously.