Q: We're struggling with our teen son's use of marijuana. We have confronted him, but he just counters that cannabis is now socially acceptable and being legalized across the country. He has refused to stop and we're not sure how to respond.
Jim: Admittedly, your son is correct in some respects. The social stigma against marijuana is diminishing rapidly and many states have legalized it for even non-medicinal purposes (although in most cases the minimum age limit is 21).
However, legalities aside, the fact remains that cannabis is a mind-altering and addictive drug. Your son needs to understand that his physical and mental health are being compromised. If you have noticed recent changes in his personality, you can strengthen your case by describing these behavioral shifts in specific terms. You can also direct him to the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA.gov), where he can see images of "the brain on pot" and access facts about the effects of marijuana on the central nervous system.
Once you've covered the science, don't hesitate to draw a line in the sand. The permissive attitudes of society have nothing to do with the standards governing your home. If you've decided you don't want weed in the house, as long as he's living with you, it has to go. Set firm and consistent boundaries and enforce them by imposing swift and powerful consequences — for example, the loss of phone or driving privileges.
If he refuses to cooperate, I strongly suggest that you seek professional help — together as a family. The most successful treatment programs take a family systems approach that involves intensive evaluation and a series of counseling sessions offered in an environment of community and accountability. Our staff counselors will be happy to help you get started; call 855-771-HELP (4357).
Q: My boyfriend and I both come from broken homes. We want to make sure we don't end up divorced like our parents, so we're planning on living together before marriage to test our compatibility. Is that a good approach?
Dr. Greg Smalley, Vice President, Marriage & Family Formation: I hear this question a lot. More and more, it seems, many well-intended couples believe that living together before marrying is a good way to find out if they have what it takes to build a strong relationship. If anything, cohabitating is almost becoming a societally acceptable norm. And on the surface, it might seem to make sense that a "test drive" should provide the information needed to predict marital success or failure.
Unfortunately, however, the facts show that the exact opposite is true. The best research indicates that couples who live together before marriage have a 50 percent higher divorce rate than those who don't.
These couples also have higher rates of domestic violence; they're more likely to become involved in sexual affairs.
If a cohabiting couple gets pregnant, studies show a very high probability that the man will abandon the relationship within two years — leaving a single mom to raise a fatherless child. Cohabitation lacks a key element of what makes a successful marriage: formally expressed commitment.
So, I strongly recommend the alternative of strategic, intentional premarital counseling. The very best way to test your compatibility for marriage is to date for at least one year before engagement — while participating in a structured counseling program that includes psychological testing. For referrals, call the number listed above.
Meanwhile, Focus on the Family offers a wealth of marriage and pre-marriage resources — including assessment tools to identify the areas where you shine as a couple, as well as help you target spots that could use a little improvement. See FocusOnTheFamily.com/marriage/ready-to-wed.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.