This week the New York Times published an article called “Q. Did You Ever Smoke Pot? A. It’s Complicated.” The article looks at what to do when you are asked a question about drugs or alcohol by youth.
While the article focuses in particularly on adolescents asking parents and sometimes doctors such questions, it is important for church leaders to also think about how we would respond to similar inquiries. Do we decide to be blatantly honest? Do we withhold our experiences? Do we stick to facts? Do we discourage or condemn certain behaviors?
Answers to questions beginning with “Did you ever…?” can have truly weighty consequences. Honesty and openness could be construed as a tale of survival or lack of consequences. Experiences with drugs and alcohol can be inadvertently condoned or conversely, they can be made more attractive and tempting to a rebellious teen once they are banned. Especially for parents, there is a worry that their answer will come back at them later (“But, you did this. Why can’t I?”).
If we can agree that the ultimate goal is to keep adolescents safe, what is the best way to do this?
The article also offers practical insights from leaders around the US:
Dr. Sharon Levy suggests that you don’t need to lie, but you don’t need to tell them everything also. She suggests not glorifying your answers and admitting to mistakes.
Respect the question and respect that the child or youth has quite possibly been anxious about asking it. Help use it as something that can keep the conversation going in a positive direction.
Dr. Williams notes, “If the way it’s presented is, ‘This is risky, and I hope that you don’t have to touch the hot stove to find out you get burned,’ they don’t have to take the same chance.” Strengthen the positive things in them: their goals, their dreams, and the joys of discovering them.
I think this article really speaks to how church leaders should approach such questions — with care, forethought, and a positive attitude. In my own ministry I have tried to be open when asked questions. This doesn’t mean I do not have limits, but, I hope the church can be a safe place for adolescents and young adults. This includes allowing them to vent questions and admit mistakes without being judged.
How do you think these questions should be handled?