Kim Carney / msnbc.com
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 8/27/2007 9:44:53 AM ET 2007-08-27T13:44:53

Parents are looking into the eyes of their teenage children and seeing their own past staring back.

Now, a generation of parents who cleaned their weed on “The White Album” are trying to figure out how to keep their kids from smoking pot and finding their efforts as useless as a double album in a world of iPods.

The big question for today’s ex-stoners: Should I tell my kid that I’ve gotten high?

Some parents seem to have forgotten one of the first lessons we ever teach our children: Tell the truth, even when it’s difficult to say or hear. But when it comes to that dreaded conversation, moms and dads are wincing at their past, even if they giggled through it at the time.

“I keep saying to my son, who is going into the music business, ‘Look, you’re going to be confronted with this stuff any day now,’” says Richard, whose son recently turned 18. “‘The day I find out that you’ve tried it, your life shuts down.’”

Richard, who asked that his last name not be published, lives in upstate New York, not far from where he attended Woodstock as a 19-year-old. And though he was sober then, he tried dope later and feels it eventually led him down some dark paths. He absolutely forbids smoking pot, and neither of his two children knows he smoked. If they ever do sniff out the truth — and use it against him — Richard says he would “stress all the deleterious effects” he has seen and experienced.

Experts such as Mitch Earleywine, associate professor of psychology at State University of New York at Albany and author of the upcoming “The Parents’ Guide to Marijuana,” agrees with Richard’s thinking, but would reproach him for his delivery.

“Soft emotions like sadness and disappointment are the thing to share with kids under these circumstances, as opposed to harder, negative emotions like anger,” says Earleywine. Citing a brain study led by psychologist Peter Fried (what are the chances!), he continues, “Then the rational argument follows and includes information about new data that show early use alters brain development, decreases IQ scores and increases the risk for dependence.”

Earleywine, who is on the advisory board of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, suggests a parental response along these lines: We didn’t understand marijuana very well back then. It makes me sad that you might harm your brain or not be as smart. I’d like you to have all the advantages you can.

Hypocritical oaths
Among nonsmokers and midnight tokers alike, there seems to be a consensus that prohibition sparks the flame of interest: Tell a teenager “absolutely not” and you raise curiosity. Mix that in with a little natural teenage rebellion and you might as well light the bong for your kid.

“If my daughter ever asked me, I think I’d be honest with her about my smoking. … Otherwise, she’d never believe me, and I think there’s a trust issue there,” admits Paul, a father of an 8- and 11-year-old from Connecticut who asked that his last name be withheld. However, he adds, “I probably wouldn’t tell her how much!”

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But telling the truth can corner parents. Struggling to reconcile their own experiences with feelings of hypocrisy, they may have the good-hearted notion to build a rapport of candor and trust by revealing their own experiences. At the same time, they worry it could come back to haunt them.

Eighteen-year-old Max, who lives in Pennsylvania, acknowledges that kids will sometimes hold up a mirror in self-defense. His parents told him years ago that they had tried pot (“Not surprising for my dad, with the music he listened to,” Max jabs), though even when he was busted, he never used it against them, as some of his pot-smoking peers have.

“I can see a lot of kids turning it back around on their parents,” he says. “Most kids when they get caught might say, ‘You smoked pot — it’s alright if I do it.’ They think they should follow their parents’ example.”

Now headed to his freshman year at college, Max says he looks forward to falling in with a new group of people who share his interests but don’t light up.

Marsha Rosenbaum is confident that a parent’s measured confession is worth the risk. Rosenbaum, who runs the drug-awareness project Safety First and is director of the San Francisco office of the Drug Policy Alliance, believes that when your child throws your own history back at you, it’s time for a “reality-based” conversation.

“My argument is if you tell kids what are basically lies, they find out for themselves anyway,” says Rosenbaum. “They’ve observed people, including their own parents usually, who have used pot and didn’t get addicted and didn’t go on to harder drugs.”

She suggests parents prepare for that conversation by doing some research so they can sit down with their kids and address questions such as “What are these drugs about? What do they actually do to the brain, to the body, to your perception? What do we know about the long- and short-range implications of using them?”

Armed with this information, parents may be better able to make a case for their kids to avoid toking up, or at least postpone experimenting.

Abigail Anderson, a 16-year-old from Washington, says the topic was never an uncomfortable one with her parents because they freely shared their experiences. Both parents told her they had tried smoking when they were older — her dad in his 30s, her stepmother in her 20s — and that they enjoyed it so long as they were with the right friends and never lost control. The message Abigail took away was that pot is best enjoyed by mature people and in small doses.

For now, she figures, she can wait. “Right now I’m not interested,” says Abigail. “If I did smoke, I think I’d probably do it in college.”

MAD Magazine may have said it best when one of its issues quipped, “Teenagers are people who act like babies if they’re not treated like adults.”

Given the source, you can be forgiven for missing the wisdom in it — especially if you were high at the time.

Rich Maloof has been published extensively on the topics of health, technology and music. He has written for MSN Health & Fitness, CNN, Billboard and Yahoo!, among others.

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