Since it's founding in 1997, the CYC-Net discussion group has been asked thousands of questions. These questions often generate many replies from people in all spheres of the Child and Youth Care profession and contain personal experiences, viewpoints, as well as recommended resources.
Below are some of the threads of discussions on varying Child and Youth Care related topics.
Questions and Responses have been reproduced verbatim.
I just wanted to get everyones' opinion on youth smoking weed. I've worked with the people who make a huge deal about it and give the kids total shit about it, and I've also worked with the people who let it go, they let the kids know they're not stupid and that they know what they're doing, but they don't consequence or even log it. They both kinda have their pros and cons, the hard asses make the kids know that it's something they shouldn't be doing and that it is unacceptable, but on the other hand it is just weed and it's a normal teenage thing to experiment with, and sometimes making a big deal just causes those kids to rebel and get into harder stuff that they probably wouldn't have gotten into. But then the people who don't really care about it send the message to the kids that smoking weed isn't a big deal and you're not even gonna get into trouble if you do it. What does everybody think? Should we be letting them get away with it or coming down hard, or is there somewhere in the middle I haven't thought of yet? Thanks a lot.
Child & Youth Care Worker
Weed is a gateway drug _PERIOD_
It either comes before alcohol or leads to alcohol. The use of drugs create sensations that are more favorable than others and youth turn to experience the more favorable of the feelings / or the absence of the more uncomfortable ones....
My history or life will come into play as a youth worker – there was a time I would be the hard ass and 'let them know' in no uncertain terms that the drug use was not ok... at that time it was my issues with drugs that was the driving force. It was my history, the stories of my past personal or family. My reactions would blind me from seeing the person in their milieu.
What I have learned in time is that I can stand by my convictions about drugs – they are devious with one mission and that is to slowly hook you in and kill you – I've learned that I can stand by my conviction but my delivery with a client need not be punitive, nor ignorant of their actions.
I believe it is my DUTY to participate in upholding the rules of place I work in. If there is a 'no drug' policy and I know someone to be using then I MUST follow through on the rules set in place – like it or not.
There is room to adjust rules with the team, to advocate for alternative consequences, to develop individual plans with clients and workers etc.. in a formal and accountable place. There is room for supervisors to work with their team to educate on intervention methods, philosophies etc..
But let me be clear – it is NEVER ok to imply permission by omitting acknowledgement of a youth being stoned. Youth using weed are seeking something they will never get. As a youth worker it is a skill best used to be firm, loving, encouraging and hold accountable the youth at risk. Be present, be consistently caring and consistently hold them to the consequences. Your behaviours toward the youth are likely a) behaviours a youth has not yet experienced in their life or b) something that's been absent and they are longing to find a way/ be saved from themselves.
Raise the bottom with love and an honorable position to uphold the duty of your organizations policies with youth workers. You might never know it...but stopping a youth today will save their life some tomorrow...
I guess I'm one of the "hard-asses". The thing is that it's not "just weed".
The health risks are well documented and don’t need further debate. Also mental health problems, even psychosis can result from smoking marijuana, so children and youth should know that it IS a big deal, and that we DO expect them to make the responsible decision. Many don’t suffer long term consequences, but I have also dealt with some who have suffered permanent damage. Keep in mind that it is never our intention to "give the kids total shit", but rather to build long-term, need-satisfying relationships with them, through which we can help them make responsible decisions and grow as individuals.
Werner van der Westhuizen
Village Director SOS Children's Villages
The question I always ask myself and staff team at our residential care facility, is what is the alternative we, as caregivers, are providing the youth. They have to be exposed at any therapeutic residential program to different options/programs/possibilities/opportunities in order for them to realize that there are better options than weed. If smoking weed is the only option to them, that is what they will do. We cannot come down hard on the youth for smoking weed, if we have not, through our programs, provide them with "healthier" alternatives.
Claudia van Niekerk
Hi Davy – it's been my experience with people I've known over the years and youth I've worked with, that weed is used as a coping mechanism. So, in some cases it may be used to escape the stresses of daily living, to mellow out and reduce the anxiety of facing difficulties, etc. I strongly encourage the youth I work with not to use weed or any other addictive substance since they all have long term effects (i.e. lack of motivation, drain on their minimal earnings) plus I have found it's when people go through the hard stuff and face their unresolved issues/fears, etc. that they really can grow. How many of us have known adults that have lifelong addictions to weed? These youth deserve a better chance and I believe are capable of much more and this is the message I send. Then it's up to them to believe it themselves.
I like to think there is a middle ground. While perhaps it's not fair to come down on them with all of gods fury, because as you said, being a teenager is certainly an experimental time. I think it is important to educate them on the risks. They need to know that it is a gateway drug, and can very easily lead to other things. As far as not logging it, I would say that would be an major ethical problem, at least where I work, we always log it, even if it is just a suspicion, for when that time that you need behaviour summaries, I would think this information would be critical.
At the end of the day they will make their own decisions, but I don't think its a good idea to pretend nothing is going on!
I don't know if you have to be a hard ass about it, but as far as I know we are talking about a controlled substance and as such, its use should not be condoned. How would you deal with it if it was your kid that you caught smoking weed? Would you go ballistic, would you impose some consequence?
Would you use it as an opportunity to educate your child? Or would you ignore it?
Hi Davy, good topic! I think that when it comes to smoking weed staff should just have the stance of this is an illegal substance and do more conversations on that, instead of weighing the pros and cons. Also I would really look at the frequency that the youth are doing it, despite apparent scientific research to say it's non addicting, honestly I would disagree with that. I believe your right in "teenage experimentation" but at the same time that experimentation could lead to a more habit forming drug or even mixing drugs and or with alcohol which can be extremely damaging to the youth's health.
If your facility can accommodate I would suggest bringing in a speaker to talk to your youth about the dangers of illegal substances and what-have-yous. Also a suggestion, if you are going to go the speaker route it might be more beneficial for the youth to have someone who has faced addiction and beat it. We can sometimes speak to our youth about the dangers but I truly believe they can pick up if we personally have not experienced it and they somewhat 'get it' a bit more form someone who has really faced the same issues they have. Hope something in here might help you!
if we have an age restriction on cigarettes i think the same should be said for marijuana as it may be socially acceptable for adults to use recreationally but it should not be endorsed esp. on young clients that may end up with serious dependency issues later in life to due to prescribed drugs they may take and the tolerance that large doses of pharmaceuticals may engender.
"Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys. Look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death! ~The Art Of War"
You sound like you already have a certain opinion and are looking for a certain response.
The kids you work with are already at risk (I'm assuming). They are more likely to become addicts than others due to already disrupted relationships that they have had. Therefore the argument other kids are doing it doesn't fly. Nice try.
Have you ever seen a brain scan of someone that has been smoking weed? There is a big difference between those that do and those that don't! The nicotine from weed is approximately 7 times that of a cigarette that doesn't even address all the additives that weed nowadays has in it and how toxic they are.
When children are in care we are responsible to teach them to be responsible, that also means to be responsible for keeping their bodies healthy. For those that say it is not a big deal, they should do some research and know the true facts. I see NO pros for allowing youth to smoke weed knowing how toxic it is.
You mentioned that allowing might deter them from getting into the hard stuff, well news flash, they are experimenting with weed and when the high just isn't there anymore they will move on if the addictive gene is in them.
And it is NOT what all kids experiment with, there are a lot of adolescents out there that are part of our next generation that we can be very proud of and that do not need to be part of the rebellion. That is what we want for the children we serve to become. Don't get me wrong I am not saying the children we serve are not these things but they are in care for a reason and sometimes that is just because they really don't know who they are and where they belong. We need to show them how to love, respect and empower so they can accept who they are or become whom they want to be. Respecting their bodies means to keep them healthy and weed doesn't do that.
Child & Youth Care Counselor
I think there has to be some sort of middle ground.
First of all, it is illegal (at least here in Ontario, without a medical license) and a kid 'may' get booked, really depends on the cops. Also really depends on the CYWs whose kids are smoking weed. I personally would not be open to letting kids bring illegal drugs into the house, but in terms of smoking outside the program, I think we should probably take an educational approach? Perhaps letting them know the long term consequences, developmental difficulties they may face if they are still young from the smoke (lungs) or chemicals (brain). I'm sure there are benefits that could be argued for too, but I believe overall health and wellness needs to be stressed.
At the same time, it is normal for kids to experiment, and especially with something like weed, where its not just kids who are smoking up but many professionals as well, I don't think we as CYWs need to come down on them too hard and make them feel guilty etc. maybe we should be focusing on why the kid is doing it in the first place? How it makes them feel. If it's real feelings (or just a chemical reaction), and as mentioned before developmental implications need to be considered.
A friend of mine was doing work in a substance abuse program, where they were largely focusing on moderation and being in control, cutting down, making healthy choices, as opposed to simply frowning upon the kids and telling them to change.
I would say we should be somewhere in the middle, and we should educate the kids as opposed to telling them what they should or shouldn't be doing. maybe exposing them to alternative healthy lifestyles could also be beneficial, like joining a sports team, or jogging together (show them they need strong healthy lungs)
... just some thoughts.
I think staff should let the kids know that they're aware and that smoking weed is unacceptable and note it. Hard consequences, I think, will just reinforce them to rebel and like you said maybe lead them to try even harder drugs. I don't agree to consequence without reasoning so maybe offering some info (actual visual info sheets) about weed and the effects it has on the brain other than 'just the high' will do them good too. Then maybe the kids can view staff as really trying to help and not going a power trip!
There is a middle.... consequence, therapy, and knowledge. There is a reason why people shouldn't use. There are also consequences for actions, and breaking the law is breaking the law. Some people don't experiment others do. There are addictive behaviors that come into play.
Why did they experiment? There are many things to consider. Working as a team sometimes means informing the right people. The therapist is the person that decides what to do in this instance. Follow the policy of the facility and do the right thing. Turning your back on a person (looking the other way) is never the right thing to do.
I personally believe that people should not smoke weed. Period. I live in the Greater Vancouver area of British Columbia, and I have seen the negative effects that marijuana (and other harmful drugs) cause. With the warmer climate, marijuana grows well here and is a hidden industry that has elevated gang violence here to catastrophic levels (in particularly in the last three months where we have seen over 40 gang style shootings in the area). Gangs see marijuana as a multi million dollar field, and are growing even more creative in sneaking it over the border where crops are scarce and a real profit can be made.
However, that isn't the real problem. The main issue is where marijuana comes from and who is growing it. As it is a multi million dollar industry, people are in it to make a profit. While most people who smoke weed (few of who I know personally) do it because it is a natural way to get high, those who grow it want you to become addicted (to increase their profit) no matter what it takes. Usually, that means lacing it with harsher drugs, such as heroin or meth. So while they may not intentionally be making their way towards harsher drugs, they are doing it unknowingly.
I feel that the best way to get teens to listen is to tell them the facts straight up. Most of the time, marijuana isn't just marijuana, it is toxic chemicals that kill brain cells. As far as I'm concerned, teens shouldn't be smoking anything. Their brains still developing. Punishment should be imminent.
IT'S BREAKING THE LAW – BOTTOM LINE!
In my opinion I don't think it's a good idea to come down too hard on the kids who are smoking weed. We all know they are going to do it anyways, and if you get yourself too worked up over it they'll just stop telling you about it. I think it's better to build a relationship where the youth we work with can be honest and not afraid to talk openly about what's happening in their lives. When something really serious happens at least you can believe they will tell you the truth about it if they know you won't over react.
With that said, I also don't think it's a good idea to give them the impression that you think it's okay or acceptable. Remind them that it's illegal and could get them into serious trouble with the law (especially if they suddenly think it's a great idea to sell it), and let them know it's not okay to show up stoned to any scheduled meeting they have with you. Keep track and pay attention. If you find out they are selling it or getting into something harder like cocaine or meth, then it's time to sit down and have a serious talk about what they're doing. I'd be lying if I said I didn't think we've all experimented in our youth, and remembering that is important. It's a time of transition and very important life lessons; we often need to make a few mistakes before we see what's right. We don't want them to rebel too hard and head too far in the wrong direction.
Open and honest communication is more important in my opinion to make sure you know when a more serious intervention (like drug or alcohol counselling) is necessary. Also making sure it's not interfering with other more important things like showing up at school or work high. Those things are definitely not okay. Let them know the expectations and then be consistent. Those are my thoughts.
Student in the BA in CYC
University of the Fraser Valley
It has been my experience that many youth who use substance (weed), often use as a way of coping with stressors in their lives. I believe that one choosing to use weed is an individual choice. However, there are many factors to consider. There is a small percentage of people who do use and continue to have a productive life and become successful in all aspects of their lives. On the other hand, there are many who use and go on to develop an addiction to weed (yes, you can become addicted in spite of the myths out there).
Historical, weed has been called a gateway drug, as often individuals can move on to other substances if they feel weed is not providing the same effects. Another factor, is more and more, current research supports that fact that substance use often goes hand-in-hand with mental health issues and visa versa, thus concurrent disorders. So, weed can trigger mental issues, particularly, if someone has a predisposition.
So, my suggestion would be to explore with the young person the reason why they are using.. what do they feel they get form it? And keep having an open dialog. Remember it is illegal, but "coming down hard" will likely close all communication with the youth.
Hope this is helpful.
"Its breaking the law, period." Great empathy skills bro. I declined to wade into the fray of this conversation but the moral high horses out here beckon.
If you have a kid who communicated with you about smoking marijuana or participating in some other nefarious or (gasp) unlawful activity, consider yourself a good youthworker. Means the youth trusts you enough to be open. What're you gonna do with that trust depends on context, culture and expectations of you in your role. Marijuana is a gateway drug, as is alcohol, and many pharmaceuticals that we prescribe children. Boredom and lack of belonging also are gateways to risk taking and drug use, suicide, cutting and risk taking. The issue to me is less about the morality of the risk the youth is taking and more about the risk and the life being lived. It may be easier for some of us to draw clear lines for professional, ethical, ageist and moral reasons and but, in my experience, those clear lines are fuzzy from a young person's perspective who lives in a world that is not so black and white as so many in this discussion want it to be.
In many of the lives of the youth I work with, their parents use marijuana. People use weed for many reasons. If I diss on dope I am asking them to choose between me and their moms or dads or grandma's. Rather if I ask them what they think about weed, how it makes them feel, if they have felt other ways that they have liked and open a conversation about their choice we can explore values of sobriety and healthy promotion outside of legalistic and alienated language and "adult values."
The concept of wellbriety as produced by many Native American communities allows for a discussion of the use of drugs and alcohol without placing power over values on the conversation. Fear not the conversation, and if you don't have the experience to seek why people get high besides to label them as mentally ill, please close your mouth and listen to those who have walked that winding path.
Kids and youth will get high on a lot of things, many of which we find in our parents' homes and some of which we find in our schools and youthworkers' offices. Converse with the kid not with yourself and not with your understanding of the problem. Using marijuana may or may not be a solution to a problem. Make sure you know the difference.
Lastly, let us please stop picking on people with mental health as if they are objects for our help. I know we all need validation for the good work we do, but let's not disguise this in looking at people with health challenges as somehow less if we use drugs that we don't buy from Wallmart.
As I read through the responses I find that some are putting teaching styles on the chopping block. Everyone handles a lesson differently and I applaud the people who "come down hard" on the people under our care and out in the big world. There are many times I have seen someone in a store voice their opinion loudly over wrong-doing. In my opinion they were really passionate about the subject matter. There were other times I've seen people yell to hear themselves yell. We are not alike and I love working with the yellers and the talker.
I have seen one teen turn their back on a
talker and really listen to a yeller – why? Because he/she cared enough
to get mad. The subject of weed is weed. Not the reaction a staff should
have with the crime. (I say crime because it is illegal) I think that
our style of expressing the important issues will vary just like any
other major situation. Take a major accident. Some stand around and do
nothing, some do something but shouldn't, and some know the exact thing
to do. Like any major issue there will be different ways to deal, cope,
and perform. I applaud all of you for doing something. When it comes
down to it knowledge is key and doing something even if it is wrong is
better than letting the person die alone (accident reference). With weed
we are trying to change a choice.
Changing that is difficult.
I can only speak from my own experiences with
smoking weed as a teenager. I did many B&E's to get high and also get my
friends high. Getting high was a sure a good way to deal with my family
problems, not to mention my own hatred for myself. All I wanted was a
mentor ... a role model. I guess that is why I now work with an agency
that matches up teens/adults with children in the
Elementary/Intermediate school system. The thought of having a child
grow up not knowing who they are, where they are going, keeps me
grounded, keeps me happy, keeps me wanting to spend time with my own
daughter, so she knows who she is. God bless my own flesh, I can only
speak from my own experiences. Let's do it for the children.
I have been one following this thread for some time now. I have seen many very clear arguments, some of which I agree with – while by some I am absolutely mystified. Along these lines, there has been one resounding response nagging at the back of my mind here, and it could be summed up in one sentence: One of the most basic laws of nature is that FORCE will be met with FORCE. By this I mean to say that we – as workers in a field geared toward developing appropriate levels of engagement, response, care-offering, mentorship, and relationship with the youth who choose to engage us – have a developed sense of awareness around how to approach opposition. Many of these youth are not so self-aware, especially when it comes to confrontation or opposition to what they accept as the norm in their lives. To move forward with a goal of "head-on collision" by means of reminding youth of legalities only serves to foster power struggles; by trying to make it evident to youth that we have "skills", and that they are better off "heeding our advice", is to set both parties up for failure as well. If this worked, we'd all have confrontation tucked into our personal tool kit. As many of us know, boot camp does not work for a reason. You could almost say that there is no "scared straight" on the street; there is "bottom", and "bottom" can't be truly visualized, created or realized by "us". However, this is not to say that it is unavoidable and that the path to this destination cannot be redrawn.
I have read a lot of discussion around "allowing" youth to smoke marijuana, or offering "enforcement" as an option because the use/possession of marijuana is against the law, and so on... Given such statements, I have to ask: Are we overstepping our own bounds in how we go about supporting those who are misusing/addicted to drugs like marijuana? For me, the term "allowing" denotes some level of ownership, rather than denoting some level of "mentorship". Is it up to us to "enforce" the law as it stands, or are we better off choosing to model choices with positive outcomes, perhaps even by making it clear how we follow the law? My experience has taught me that shifting the focus to spotlight precursors, triggers, respecting and understanding personal story, and assuring youth, directly or indirectly, that they hold a lot of significance in many lives can foster more demonstrable gains than further defining the "worker/youth line" ever will. Mentorship is so very much more than simply "supporting what's right".
We have established that marijuana is a "gateway" drug, but it is not as simple as saying it comes from or before a particular substance. This refers to some feeling of certainty as to an outcome of the drug use; we have no idea what the future brings, and again many of us know how trying to predict the future results of our work with youth is next to impossible, if not disappointing in the long run. Also, the fact that marijuana is illegal is a common piece of knowledge. For me, reminding someone of this is like flogging the dead horse; it also tends to negate the role we've worked so hard to define as healthy, knowledgeable child and youth workers.
Some of the strongest points I have seen in the responses so far are around establishing boundaries, modelling positive behaviours, and remaining flexible. Low barriers, highlighting strengths while void of condemnation for doing something "wrong", go a lot further than the opposite. If you want someone to take their coat off and stay awhile, stop blowing cold air in their direction; be warm and inviting, and you just might be privileged with an opportunity to broach the subject of drug use/misuse/addiction. We have to remember that our relationship is fleeting, that there is a whole world of influence to contend with while we're off the clock, and that youth work is 50:50. Perhaps most importantly, our "skills" offer no blanketing effect. Even with all of our years of experience and hard work, every youth we meet turns us into a rookie...
Rob Austin, CYCC
Be professional. Our opinions do not matter. It's the kid's opinion about that drug that matters. Document and educate.
Unfortunately I have more questions then I do answers. I think on the one hand we want to remain approachable, yet give them good direction.
I haven't done much work with teens so I am unqualified to give advice about it. I only realized I wanted to work with kids about 2 years ago. I think drug use needs to be acknowledged but am uncertain just how best to talk to kids about it.
"Weed" seems pretty innocent and I hope it's just an experimental phase, but it is worrisome because it's unregulated, if it is being bought off the street you really don't know what's in it sometimes it can be laced with other drugs, it also acts as a depressant I understand. But I realize I am getting off topic.
I hope to check in again later and read more.
Child & Youth Care Student and part-time worker
Just reviewed your query as well as the numerous replies and must say the field has a broad opinion. Yes as developing teens experimentation is common whether it be with cigarettes (which are also illegal to them), alcohol (illegal), sex, challenging authority, etc. All can be summed up as trying to find oneself. I don't feel it has to be a form of rebellion. I do believe that yes the risks for our youth are higher. Many do have mental health issues that have not fully developed yet, some may be self medicating because their disorder has not been identified and medicated properly.
A gateway drug? Yes, but I believe any drug can be a gateway. For me I believe it is more the decision to partake in an act that one knows is against society's norms (illegal) then the drug itself. If an individual has someone who they can talk to openly about why they do the drug, what need it fulfils, and a relationship that is concrete enough. The individual CYCW is in a position to use social reinforcement. Not only to educate the youth on other options, to fulfil their needs, but provide genuine support. Really do we think that the youth we serve care what our opinion of them is if we don't have a relationship with them? I know if I had someone be a hard ass with me I would tell them to "fuck off" to.
Yes we definitely need to acknowledge that we are aware a youth is under the influence of whatever they choose (drugs, alcohol, sex). Giving a youth a consequence, especially when they are under the influence or trying to talk with them is not going to be effective. Informing them a conversation will be taking place at some point is important and that it is followed up with is key. Balance is also important if the youth is experimenting or are they in trouble and this is how they are expressing it. Abuse is a symptom of something larger. If you push a youth away with, 'hard ass' tactics you will interfere with developing the type of relationship that allows open/deep conversation where a youth identifies their trigger. Yes our personal beliefs will come into play, we are human. Yes approaches will vary but hopefully someone on the team will be there for the youth to feel safe enough to talk to without feeling they will get shut down with consequence or judgement. Remember we were all teenagers at one point and it was hard. Imagine what it is like for them. I know I would be looking for some relief once and awhile to.
Personally i don't think that youth should be smoking weed even if it is to experiment with it because it IS still illegal. But whether or not we believe they should or should not be allowed to experiment with it, I think that finding out the root of why they would want to try it out is the more important issue to focus on ... it could be a great many reasons – their parents might be smoking it in front of them all the time, there may be peer pressure or they might just want the experience but I think that as Child and Youth Care workers we DO have a say in their lives and they WILL listen to our thoughts on it if we come with the right approach. I was volunteering with some youth for quite a while and there was one girl in particular who wanted to try smoking weed and her reason was that her mom did and she really wanted to be like her mom. Just by listening, talking and hearing her side of the story she was able to hear her own reasoning and make the decision that it really would be pointless to try smoking it. She realized that the life her mother was living really wasn't the life that she wanted and so the desire to try weed diminished.
I know that she is just one example out of many but it's still one. Our approach to the issue, regardless of what we believe about it, should be out of love, care and the youth's best interests in mind. Taking the extreme approach on either side – making a huge deal or letting it go completely – are both harmful approaches ... we need to listen, love and help them think about what decisions they are making and how it may affect them in the long run. By doing this they will notice we care, they will notice that we are not "out to get them" or that we don't think they should just do whatever they want. Every experience we have to speak into a youth's life is going to play into their growth and development in a healthy way or destructive way. Coming alongside of them and assisting them to realize the reasoning behind their actions and having them think about both the consequences and benefits/rewards that could emerge will be beneficial and lead to healthy growth and development in the long run. The message we should be portraying above all else should be love.
University Of the Fraser Valley
Thanks Amanda, for your comments.
That sounds really good. It fits in with how I would like to see myself dealing with this issue.
I can see how the approach of drawing out their story not only allows me to respond with empathy, it facilitates learning and reflection for them. I agree love is a vital ingredient, it fuels our work, and can make for good role modeling.
Well stated Amanda!