I’m here to tell any parent of a teen that even if you think you know them well, your teen has secrets. They might even have secrets for so long that by the time you find out about them, you’re dealing with a mess. For instance, if you’re anything like me, you probably won’t know your teen is smoking pot until it’s reached crisis levels.
Story by anonymous Mumlyfe reader, as told to Bron Maxabella
When I say ‘anything like me’, I mean just a regular mum. I work part time in an office job and I have a second job driving the kids around day and night. I make the meals, I clean the house. Between all that I try to find time for my husband, and every now and then I get to kick back and just be me.
Just your regular mum, stretched way too thin and unable to see that her teen is smoking pot right in front of her eyes.
The stats back me up
I know I’m not alone. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare says that cannabis is the most commonly used illicit substance among adolescents aged 12-17. Among 14-17 year olds, 16% report trying cannabis, with 8.2% saying they had ‘recently used’ it. That’s a big proportion of kids giving cannabis a go, with the general word being that smoking it either by rollies or using a homemade bong is the most common way to try it. Keep an eye on the length of your garden hose!
Keep an eye on the length of your garden hose!
What really gets me is that I’ve educated myself on what’s available to kids. I almost expected my kids to somehow get involved. Admittedly I was more on the lookout for alcohol, but pot was definitely still something I considered. I remember pinning the ADF cannabis page a couple of years ago (when my kids were 12 and 14 years). It was so I could remember to take note of the visible signs that your teen is smoking pot:
- spontaneous laughter and excitement
- increased appetite
- slower reflexes
- bloodshot eyes
- mild anxiety and paranoia
The fact is, when it came down to it, I missed them all. I didn’t notice that my 16-year-old son was using weed, wasn’t even suspicious. And I definitely didn’t know that it had been going on one way or another since he was 13 and in Year 8.
There’s no signs when you don’t see them
We are a typical busy family with two full-time working parents. Since the kids have become teens, we don’t see a lot of each other. I don’t know when that happened, but it happened. In fact, I never realised that I barely see my sons at all until the whole pot thing came up.
I guess it’s no wonder that I missed the things they tell you to look out for. It’s hard to see changes in your kids when they are busy with school, or shut behind their bedroom door or out with their friends 99% of the time. When the whole thing blew up, I realised that we hadn’t even eaten dinner together for months.
I never realised that I barely see my sons at all until the whole pot thing came up.
I could make all the excuses in the world about why that is. Our jobs are busy and then you spend the rest of the time ferrying your kids around town to training, sports, their mates’ places. They grow up and don’t want to hang out as a family anymore and one way or another… you just don’t hang out any more.
A true friend
So, this is how I finally found out that my teen is smoking pot: his friend dobbed him in. Thank God for that friend. I know most kids wouldn’t dream of going to a mate’s mother and telling them they were worried about their friend, but this kid did. Don’t we wish more would?
This boy is a true friend to my son. They have known each other since Year 2 at primary school and have stuck together, even though they don’t go to the same high school.
My son’s friend noticed that his pot use was getting more and more regular. He didn’t think anything of it when it was just vaping and some tokes at a party with other kids. He started to get concerned when my son told him that he was smoking a cone before school most days.
This boy came to see me when he knew my son wouldn’t be home and explained that he was so worried about my son that he was prepared to risk the friendship in order to get him some help. He didn’t want my son to know he was telling me, but he knew I needed to know.
I was (and am) naturally gutted, absolutely wrecked. And so grateful that boy that I will love him until the day I die.
Another mother’s perspective: “I can’t tell my friend that her kid is smoking weed”
Help is there when you need it
That very day I raided my son’s room while he was still out and found all the evidence we needed to confront him. Well, confront isn’t really the word here. We wanted him to know we were on his side and just wanted to talk through why he felt the need to smoke most days.
We contacted ReachOut and through them found Counselling Online – it’s a free service. Our counsellor helped us work out a good strategy to talk to our son. We prepared in advance what we wanted to say and made sure we emphasised that we loved him and wanted to help him. It was also really important to me that I owned the fact that I hadn’t been there for him as much as I should have been, but I was here for him now.
Please click here for a list of organisations to contact for help in any situation.
Here are some of the reasons why he said he smoked pot:
- My friends all do it
- Pot is natural so it’s not bad for you
- It makes me feel less anxious about school
- Smoking makes me feel more confident
- It helps me fit in better
- It’s not a big deal to kids, only adults
We told him that we couldn’t condone using pot, but we could get him some help to get off it and feel better about himself without it. He talked to a counsellor at Headspace the very next day. (We were lucky that they were doing Zoom meetings during a lockdown at the time. This was less scary for our son.)
Read this too: Our teens are in crisis and they need our help
It’s going well
Since then he’s also being seeing a psychologist that a friend recommended and it’s going well. He’s been off the pot for almost three months now.
He’s agreed to stay off it for now, but I know this is hard for him. He says he feels isolated from his friends because, according to him, everyone is smoking and he’s the odd one out. At 16, that’s a rough way to feel, but it just has to be the way it is.
I know he’s feeling better both within and about himself.
I know he’s feeling better both within and about himself. That’s a strong motivation to keep going with the psychologist and stop smoking weed. I think we are lucky that he’s been so open to getting off it. I know many other kids might not feel that way.
If you’re going through this, I’d like to give you a big hug and tell you that it’s okay if you missed the signs in your kid, too. I was lucky I found out about my son’s drug use through his friend coming to see me. Otherwise I still wouldn’t know – like I didn’t for the two years before I found out.
Parents are only human and we have busy lives of our own. We can’t beat ourselves up about things that happened in the past, only change things for the better in future.
For our family, there have been significant changes. We are making the biggest effort to spend more time with our sons. Just because they are teens and say they don’t want to be with you, trust me, they do. We also operate a ‘door open’ policy throughout our home. Too much went on behind my son’s closed door that might not have been able to happen if it had been open.
If you, or someone you know, are in crisis and urgently need help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. If you are in immediate danger, call 000 right now.
Do you think you’d also miss the signs that your teen is smoking pot?
Images with pipe by Sharon McCutcheon; joint image by Thought Catalog; boy smoking by Sven Kucinic
Oh boy, where to begin!? Do I just come out and say it? I hate that my daughter has a sex life. There you go, it’s out, just like that. I hate, hate, hate it.
This post was written by an anonymous Mumlyfe reader
To begin, I never thought I’d write an anonymous story for Mumlyfe, yet here I am. I feel like I need to write about this but I don’t want you to know who I am. I don’t want my name to this because (a) my teen’s privacy is very important to both her and me; and (b) I feel like such a fuddy-duddy and I never would have thought I’d react the way I am; and (c) if I’m honest, I am actually ashamed that my 16-year-old is sexually active.
Let’s back up a bit. She’s 16 now, but I recently found out that she first had sex in year 8 at 14. God, I hope it was then. Fourteen is bad enough, but imagine if it was even earlier than that?
A good relationship?
She’s had three partners that she’s had sex with and (I quote) “given blow jobs to too many to count”. Should I just be pleased and proud that she tells me these things? Cringe. Rather, I do feel really proud of our close relationship, but most of the time I feel like I know too much!
Don’t forget: How to talk to teens about consent (yes, even if it’s awkward AF!)
It’s not all roses. She wasn’t always so open with me. For instance, I didn’t know about her having sex underage until this year, conveniently when she was over-age.
Recently she told me she was thinking about having sex with her current boyfriend, and I took it in my stride at the time. I took her to the doctor to talk about contraception choices. Oh dear, that was such an awkward thing as I had no idea she’d want me in the doctor’s surgery while the discussion happened.
That’s when the whole “not my first time” conversation came up – at the doctor’s. I had to sit there looking all calm and peaceful while she told the doctor about having had sex more than ten times with two partners already. How, when. where, whaaaaat?
While she’s happily discussing her sex life with the same doctor who told me I was pregnant with her, I was such a ball of woe. I felt like our kindly doc was judging my pathetic parenting efforts because my baby was having sex. And believe me, she’s never looked younger than in that bloody doctor’s surgery!
So, afterwards I casually mentioned to her that I didn’t know she had lost her virginity so young and she rolled her eyes at me. “As if anyone is a virgin in Year 10, Mum,” she told me.
Ahem, excuse me, plenty of girls are virgins in Year 10, I said. Like, most girls.
Apparently I’m living in the dark ages, because she’s adamant that the majority of girls at her high school lose their virginity in Year 7 or 8. I’m honestly speechless at this and can’t believe it’s true. Is it true? It can’t be true!*
More mum worries: “My daughter is self harming and I feel so guilty”
Mother of the year
Anyway, back to the fact that my daughter has a sex life. I’ve done all the right things, said all the right things to her, given permission to have the boyfriend sleep over and all the rest. I’m basically trying to be mother of the year, but it’s all lies. Inside, I’m cringing and disappointed for her.
I can’t be the only parent who wishes her kid had waited until at least after high school to have sex? I was 17 and in Year 11 when I lost my virginity to one of those boyfriends that you think is amazing at the time, but looking back you realise manipulated you into sex with him. Because most boys at that age are complete dickheads. Something you truly only come to appreciate it when you’re not 16 yourself…
I think this is the guts of why I disappointed that my daughter has a sex life so young. What you think is a good idea at 16 is pretty much never a good idea.
It’s better to wait until you’re more mature. By the end of high school so much more is clear to you. You can stand up for yourself a bit more readily and you know when boys are being assholes in a way that you just can’t see when your hormones are running the show when you’re younger.
Is it too late?
So, I’ve been thinking about being honest with my daughter and telling her how I really feel. And how I really feel is that my daughter might have had sex before, but that doesn’t mean she has to keep having sex. I’m worried that it might drive a wedge between us, but maybe that’s not such a bad thing. It’s not a close relationship if it’s papered over with lies. I want to tell her that she can not have sex if that’s what she really wants.
I know these are her decisions, but I’m tired of her having the boyfriend sleep over when I know what they’re getting up to. It’s just cringe-worthy in my own home. I am 100% sure my husband (not her dad) would be devastated if he knew what was going on under his roof, too. So far, we’ve kept it a secret from him. Something else I am not proud of at all. Frankly, when I find myself lying to my own husband about my daughter, I know trouble is brewing. I lie because I know he would feel exactly how I really feel about his teen step-daughter having sex and lose his shit.
Oh boy, it’s such a mess. Can you take back something like this? Is it too late for me to set boundaries? Can you even do that about your teens and their sex life? I have no idea what I’m doing anymore!!!!
* Editor’s note: It’s not true. Australian government statistics suggest that at 16-17 years old, only around one third of girls have had sex.
Do you pretend to like stuff that your teens do even though you don’t?
Feature image by Artem Beliaikin; stop by Jose Aragones; wrong way by William Mattey
A lot of my daughter’s friends are using weed. I know this for a fact because I’ve let the kids smoke at our place when we weren’t there. I figured I would rather they were safe in our backyard than bonging on in some park somewhere. If a kid is smoking weed, it’s better for them to be safe about it.
This article is kindly shared by an anonymous guest writer.
I know that there are many parents out there who would not be as lenient about smoking pot as me and my partner are. At this stage, we don’t think our daughter is smoking and maybe we would have a different attitude about it if she was, not just her friends. I’m probably stupid enough to believe that she’s not likely to take up the habit, even though her friends appear to be smoking weed regularly. At least once a week that I know about, maybe more.
Breaking the mother code
Look, I get that I’ll probably be judged for turning a blind eye to this. There’s a ‘mother code’ that we’re not supposed to break, isn’t there? You keep an eye on my child and I’ll keep an eye on yours.
It was much easier when the children were young and we were phoning each other to dob on some playground misdemeanor. “Y was mean to X today” or “I don’t think X really wants to keep doing ballet”. Kid stuff that’s easily shared between mothers.
Now those kids are in year 11 in high school, I don’t think the mother code holds firm. You see, there’s a thing called the ‘parent code’ and, for me, it goes something like this:
“You can tell me anything and I’ll listen without judging you, I promise.”
“Will you tell anyone what I say?”
“Never. Well, not unless I think you, or one of your friends is in trouble. Then I would have to break your trust to get them the help they need.”
“But not other than that?”
Different values doesn’t make it wrong
Some parents might think that their child smoking weed instantly makes it a “friends in trouble” scenario, but I disagree. That’s my values possibly being at odds with another parent’s values. I get that they might not be impressed with my decision, but I have to make up my own mind based on what I think is best for my child.
To me, a teenager experimenting with pot is not a dangerous situation. It’s certainly not one I’m willing to destroy the relationship I have with my daughter over.
Something that might change my opinion: how the kids are getting the drugs. I have no knowledge whatsoever as to how my daughter’s friends have such ready access to weed (and definitely vapes and possibly other drugs, but I’m in the dark about that too). If I ever found out and thought they were in danger that way, I would intervene. My daughter knows this and it’s probably why she’s never told me anything about that side of things.
Teens experimenting is not a new thing
What I do know is that at least half her friends are smoking weed most weekends. They make bongs from drink bottles, foil and straws, bits of cut up hose or other tubes. Yep, not a lot has changed in bong technology since we were teens ourselves.
Or, perhaps, you never experimented with smoking weed as a kid? Never tried an upper? What about alcohol? Were you one of those kids who got rat-faced on Bundy and coke every weekend? Did you think that was dangerous? Do you think it’s dangerous now?
I’d honestly much rather my kid was smoking weed than necking a litre of spirits. Wouldn’t you rather a group of teens were high on weed than manic on alcohol? It might stuff up their developing brains even more, but at least pot doesn’t add to a teen’s already rampant recklessness and inhibition. Alcohol kills a lot of people. As far as I know, weed very few.
Of course, none of it is good! I know that! I’d rather they weren’t doing any of it, believe me. But I’m not naive enough to think that a parent telling a teen not to do something because it’s not good for them is going to change a single thing. These kids will find ways to get high – if not weed or alcohol, then something else. Your own kid probably is too. You just don’t know about it.
It’s harder when you know the parents
The only time I’ve felt really conflicted about knowing the kids are all smoking weed and not telling their parents was recently. According to my daughter, my own friend’s kid has started experimenting with bongs. She’s getting high most weekends at ‘sleepovers’.
I’ve been really conflicted about whether I should tell my friend that her kid is smoking weed. It’s such a dilemma. On the one hand, I know my friend would not be happy at all to know that I know and haven’t said anything. She would be completely blindsided by her daughter’s behaviour. Not for a second would she ever think her kid is smoking. Not for a second.
On the other hand, my own daughter trusts me to keep her secrets and I don’t want to break that trust. I don’t want my daughter to stop talking to me about what is going on in her life.
So, I probably won’t ever tell my friend what I know. It eats me up a bit because I love her and I hate the thought of keeping her daughter’s secret. But I think I have way more to lose than my friend would gain in knowing what her kid is up to. After all, just because a teen’s parents catch them out, doesn’t necessarily stop them from getting high with their friends. They just get sneakier about it.
I know this, because my daughter told me.
Would you tell a friend that their kid is smoking weed?
Resources: Support and help for teens in Australia
Feature image by zaya odeesho; Lock by chris panas
My name is Sarah and I have anxiety. Saying it like that doesn’t seem enough. People often have anxiety and many more have found themselves experiencing it for the first time, during these terrible times. It doesn’t seem like enough. Not nearly enough. If this is what it feels like right now, I can’t face the anxiety when lockdown ends.
Written by Bron Maxabella in discussion with Sarah
I’ve been on medication to control my fears and stress since my late teens. It still comes and it goes. Right now, it is an ever-present, toothed beast, ripping at my back, daring me to relax my ram-rod vigilance. Being hyper-aware at all times is the only way I can settle at all. I can’t see this virus, can’t feel it, would never know it was there, which is why it scares me so much. I can’t sleep, I can barely eat, I roam my home like a shimmering ghost, staring out of windows at the terrifying world outside. And cleaning.
My anxiety about the virus has me washing and sterilising surfaces all day, every day. My fear radiates through our home like fire. I’ve never had OCD tendencies, not once in my life, but now I wash and I wash and then I turn around and start again. Top to bottom, bottom to top, side to side, everything clean, clean, clean until it’s not and back to the beginning I go. Often I sob as I clean, for I can’t stand to live like this. Can’t stand to have the kids see the pain I wash into every corner of our home.
They can’t look anyway, for fear they’ll catch it. They know how contagious anxiety can be.
My eldest catches it easily. I have never known whether she would have been an anxious child if she had a different mother. That’s not the kind of thing a mother’s heart lets you think about. Perhaps. Maybe. Around in circles my head goes, picking at every loose end in my children, pulling, fixing, niggling. But my heart won’t ever let me examine what a life without me in it would have meant for my children. A different life, and a voice in my soul whispers, “better.”
My daughter doesn’t want to go back to school, but that’s okay. She’s never, ever willingly gone to school. It’s been a battle from day one and next week will be no different. My one positive from this coronavirus time has been not having that daily fight. I’ve always known that she has to go in. I spent my whole childhood avoiding the things that made me anxious and look where I am now.
I understand, I tell her, but I have to make you go. You have to learn to bear your pain or it never goes away.
The battle nearly kills both of us, each and every day. A sudden thought wrenches me up with a gasp: next week, it might actually kill her.
Not ready, not ready, not ready, not ready, not ready, not yet.
My son will fly out the door, his anxiety wholly attached to wanting to get away. From me. Fearful I might clutch at his heels as he leaves, pulling him back in. “One day a week of normal life,” was how my son described it when he heard schools were reopening. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that there is nothing ‘normal’ about life now. The virus hasn’t gone anywhere. I’m just so comforted by the fact that he is hopeful, relaxed. He hasn’t caught it. Doesn’t feel it. I accept his need to get away, pull it close like a blanket.
My friends are also relaxed about school going back. They are keen to get their kids out of the house, seeing friends, returning to school life. It makes me angry, if I’m honest. I’m angry that they don’t share my anxiety. I’m angry that it seems to be so easy for them to trust. To just let go. I envy them their willingness to relinquish control, let someone else make the decisions. They will never know what it feels like to be rigid with vigilance, 24 hours a day. To see fear in every moment. They will send their kids off to school next week and head back home to work or potter and they will just never know.
It’s hard not to be angry when you suffer from anxiety. I’m too exhausted to be anything else. That’s the bottom line for me. And this is just where it begins.
Feature image by Toa Heftiba
Do you feel guilty all the time about the way you have raised your children? I have always felt so guilty from day one: I didn’t give my kids enough of my time and I escaped to work as soon as I could, because mothering was so hard. Now my daughter is self harming, and I feel like all my parenting fails have come to haunt me like an evil spirit.
Trigger WARNING: Detailed referencing of Self-Injury (Self-Harm) or Non-Suicidal Self-Injury (NSSI) practices.
My daughter is almost 15-years-old and says she started self harming at about the end of year six. For the record, I only noticed these past school holidays, so that’s another thing to feel guilty about. It had been going on for over two years and I didn’t even know. If that doesn’t make you question your worth as a mother, I don’t know what would.
Scars and wounds
She cuts her thighs on the side, little slivers she makes with her razor. The whole side of her leg is just a mess of scars and wounds. It breaks my heart to see the damage she has done to herself and I feel sick writing it down right now. From what she tells me, the cutting started quite small, but has escalated. Now she cuts herself “most days”.
She tells me she has tried many times to stop, but trying to stop only makes her cut more. The last time she tried to stop, she also stared burning herself with a cigarette lighter. I think that scared her as it was around this time that she started to get less vigilant about covering up, and I saw the mess on her legs. I am convinced that she wanted me to see, but she denies this.
Please read: What to do if your teen is self harming
None of my business
I am so frightened by this, literally shaking with fear. I would do anything to end this for her, but she will no accept any help. I even threatened to tell the school so they can also keep an eye on her, but it doesn’t faze my daughter. It’s like she wants to keep cutting and I don’t understand that at all.
I’m told that it is ‘none of my business’ and she won’t even go to our family GP even though I’ve begged and begged her to get help. She had an ear infection and wouldn’t even go in to see the doctor because she didn’t trust me not to tell him about her cutting.
How do you make a girl that doesn’t want help, get help? The fact that she won’t open up to me only exacerbates my feelings of huge guilt and I’m terrified for her. She won’t talk to me about it and instead just blatantly continues on doing it, even though she knows how upset I am. If she’s not talking to me about it, if I can’t help her, then who? I’m am devastated that she is doing this on her own.
I’ve let her down badly
To not know why your child is doing something so drastic is just the most frigthening feeling. If I had been there for her more on a daily basis, I can’t help feel that this would not have happened. I worry about her constantly and rarely even sleep at night. I’m exhausted, but a part of me knows to stay vigilant 24/7.
I fear she will escalate her behaviour and might hurt herself badly enough to require medical attention. I feel sick that something might happen and I won’t be there to get her to casualty or all an ambulance. She tells me she is not suicidal at all, but how can I trust that to be true? The worry is just eating away at my insides.
I know I’ve let my daughter down so badly and that’s partly why I am hovering over her now. It’s all well and good to say that mothers should have lives that are not just mothering, but from the perspective of a mother who has severely dropped the ball, I disagree. I should have been there for her. That’s all I can think about.
It makes her feel better
When I asked her WHY she is self harming, she told me that it makes her feel better. Which just seems like such a contradiction to me that I cannot get my head around it. She was never a particularly anxious kid growing up, but she has become more anxious now.
I think the cutting is some kind of weird coping mechanism for her anxieties. I imagine that letting blood flow out might feel like a release of emotions that she can’t express in other ways. It just makes me shudder to think that it has come to this for my beautiful daughter.
It’s all very well for people to advise that you ‘get help’ for your teen, but if they won’t go, they won’t go. I have threatened so many things, but she just laughs in my face. And still the cutting goes on.
If you, or someone you know, are in crisis and urgently need help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. If you are in immediate danger, call 000 right now.
Please click here for a list of organisations to contact for help in any situation.
Please always just ask for help – people are there for you!
Feature image by Emiliano Vittoriosi