The following eleven articles are from a discussion on the RC e-mail discussion list for leaders of parents.

Teens, Drugs, Oppression, and Setting Limits

Our seventeen-year-old son has been struggling for a few years with using drugs—mostly marijuana (pot) but some other substances, too.

Our family lives in a gentrifying but still mostly working-class neighborhood in a medium-sized city in the United States. My husband and I are both RC teachers, have been Co-Counseling for years, went to playdays1 before our son was born, and did playdays and special time2 with him. We listen to him well, but in the last couple of years he hasn’t talked to us much.

I think he started using drugs when he became disenchanted with school. He tried a couple of different high schools and now goes to a community college instead. The schools were not great, but they weren’t terrible and one had a learning-through-internship program that we thought was working for him.

After we found out3 he was selling drugs, we enrolled him in a non-RC drug recovery program. He goes there for counseling once a week, and we drug-test him and impose consequences if the tests show that he has used drugs. My husband and I go to a non-RC Al-Anon (twelve-step-type) parent group as part of the program. We also have a lot of Co-Counseling sessions. It has been helpful to work on my own teen years, my own past drug use, and my hopes for the best and fears of the worst. I’ve also worked on my brother and his addiction.

I keep trying different ways to stay connected with my son. I read some of the same books he reads and try to talk to him about them—usually I get a word or two in response. Recently I’ve cooked extra food and had his friends over.4 Also, my husband works from home, and I rarely go away on weekends, so at least one of us is around a lot.

Now things seem worse. Our son has refused to go to the counseling and ran away when we tried to ground him (keep him at home) as a consequence for smoking pot again. We are thinking about residential drug treatment but would have to send him there against his will. A good thing is that since we have imposed consequences, he has been talking a lot about why he smokes pot and about other things, too, such as environmental degradation and how messed up our society is with so much greed. He discharges some when he talks.

I’d like to hear your thinking about and experience with the following:

• What is the difference between setting limits and oppressing, in the context of teenagers and drug use?

• You can set a limit and the teen may discharge against it. But what if the limit is “don’t do drugs,” especially “don’t do drugs in the house,” and the teen goes ahead anyway? Unlike with younger young people, you can’t physically enforce limits.

• Have any of you sent your child to residential drug treatment? If so, what was your thinking about doing that, and about sending your child away against his or her will?

• What were some of the things you counseled on that helped you think about your teen?

• How did you figure out what distresses were underneath the drug use?

• What counseling directions seemed useful for your sessions?

• What directions seemed useful to your teen?

• How have you figured out to stay close while setting a limit on drugs or to have conversations with your teen about limits?

• How are you thinking about limits in the context of teen drug use?


“Jane Roe”

1 A playday is a several-hour RC workshop that includes time for children to do whatever safe activities they want to do, with the encouragement and appreciation of the adults present, and to discharge if they wish. It also includes discharge time for the adults.
2 Special time is an activity, developed in RC family work, during which an adult puts a young person in full charge of their mutual relationship, as far as the young person can think. For a specific period of time, the adult lets the young person know that he or she is willing to do anything the young person wants to do. The adult focuses his or her entire attention on the young person and follows his or her lead, whether the young person tells, or simply shows, the adult what she or he wants to do.
3 “Found out” means discovered.
4 “Had his friends over” means had his friends come over to our house to eat.

Some Thoughts about Teens and Drugs

Thanks, “Jane,” for writing about this important topic. Many parents struggle with the issues you have brought up. It sounds like you and your husband have figured out a lot and are continuing to do so. Nice job.

We can learn a lot from each other. And, like you, when we write about the struggles of our young people, we should write anonymously.

I’ll say something about setting limits:

As parents we try to let our young people make decisions, as far as they are able to think about something. We want them to be in charge of their lives as much as possible. However, when they cannot think about something, we need to assess if they can learn from their mistakes and how much permanent damage could result from any mistakes they might make. Then we need to think about what kind of a limit will help them discharge, bring them closer to us, and/or protect them from permanent damage.

That your son is talking more, now that you are setting some limits, is a good thing. You are also making it difficult for him to take and sell drugs, and that is a good thing too. Our children wave red flags when they need help, and we need to notice when they are doing that. It is caring about your son, not oppression, to stay close to him and not allow him to hurt himself by using or selling drugs.

As with all the difficulties our children run into,1 we have to counsel a lot, and it sounds like you are doing that. I would keep it up,2 so that you can keep figuring out how to set up conditions that will allow him to show you what is hard and where he is scared, discouraged, and angry. We all have to find how to open the little locks that have prevented us from having access to the bigger, earlier hurts our children are struggling with. Certainly, I would ask him questions about school, since that is one place where you know things got hard and he was not able to tell you about it.

Here are a few more thoughts. I don’t know you, or what is workable with your son, so take from this what is useful:

Physical closeness, wrestling, physical play, and other kinds of play are all good for teens. Perhaps he says he is not interested or pulls away, but I wouldn’t give up on that track. I’d look for light or zany (surprising, unexpected, perhaps embarrassing) ways to be close to him or get him to laugh. You can do things that make it possible for him to laugh at you.

Ask him if he wants to do some two-way mini-sessions with you. He may say no, but you will have introduced the idea that he can be in charge of his feelings. If he refuses, see if he’ll listen to you for a few minutes. Then work on your early struggles and perhaps how they play out3 in your life today. (Of course, don’t counsel on any distresses you have about him.)

That he is angry about greed and environmental degradation is a hopeful thing. Tell him that there are a lot of people who are angry about them and that they could use his input and activism. You could introduce him to people who are organizing on these issues. Do tell him that people in RC are also angry about them and would like to hear his thoughts. His voice as a young person is important.

I do not know your son’s history in RC, but two-way Co-Counseling for young people can and should happen alongside of family work4 as young people grow. An increasing number of Communities have set up transition classes for people in their pre-teen or teen years. The young people learn how to take charge of the counseling process and make it their own. They support each other in battling young people’s oppression. And they form relationships that go on forever. If a young leader is not available to teach one of these classes, perhaps you could find an adult to do it.

Whether or not such a class is possible right now in your Community, tell your son that a lot of young people who grew up in RC are struggling with drugs and alcohol and are figuring things out. He is not alone in this. A lot of young people feel that their parents haven’t been able to help them in this area, and you may be one of those parents. Nevertheless, you are trying to listen and are working on your distresses so that eventually you can be helpful.

You could also try to get close to your son’s friends. I like that you are making extra food and having them come over. If you can hang out5 and build relationships with them, as individuals or as a group, you can try asking them questions about their lives and building some trust. Eventually you can (non-judgmentally) ask them about drugs and get their thinking about them.

It’s good that you are at home and around him. The more of that, the better.

Marya Axner
International Liberation

Reference Person for Parents
Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

1 “Run into” means encounter.
2 “Keep it up” means continue to do that.
3 “Play out” means are manifested.
4 “Family work” is the application of Re-evaluation Counseling to the particular situations of young people, and families with young children. It entails young people and adults (both parents and allies) interacting in ways that allow the young people to show and be themselves and not be dominated by the adults.
5 “Hang out” means spend relaxed, unstructured time.

"Almost No Room to Be Themselves"

My son is now in his late twenties. He began his life in RC. He was an “exemplary” RC child, a sensitive boy who could discharge easily and be open, close, and connected. He also avoided conflict at all costs.1

After he was born, I listened to him cry and did well until he tried to discharge terror. Then I couldn’t listen anymore and would have to stop the sessions. This may be why he was pulled to terrifying things as a teenager: drugs, alcohol, graffiti, arrests, and finally an accident. That my husband and I come from a long line of alcoholics, all on the male side of our families, has also been a factor in how well we’ve been able to think about our son.

When he was thirteen, he had a girlfriend who ended up leaving town and going far away. He was very upset, and I remember telling him that he could probably use a session. His response, perhaps revealing the crux of the matter, was (in a rare raised voice), “Mom, that is the problem; I discharge too easily.” I didn’t realize at the time, but do now, that men’s oppression and homophobia were bearing down hard on him. I hadn’t discharged enough to give him perspective and sessions.

Shortly after that, he began to drink and smoke pot. I took a no-tolerance stand but didn’t have much free attention. I was feeling ashamed that my raised-in-RC boy was not doing as well as the other RC young people. It was hard to talk about him in RC.

He went away to college and was thrown out the first semester because he got drunk, graffitied up the campus, and was arrested. He was let back into school the following semester after completing drug counseling. He took courses over the summer to catch up on lost credits. At one point, he was out with friends drinking and fell off a building, breaking his neck and back. He had to have emergency surgery to take bone fragments out of his brain.

The surgeon was not hopeful about the prognosis. However, my sensitive, seemingly passive son began the fight of his life. I had never seen anyone fight so hard. He seemed to have decided that he wanted to live. We stayed with him throughout his recovery and went up against his scariest distresses in his sessions. There he was, in the neuro2-critical-care and brain-rescue unit, having physical sessions.3 He healed fast. He refused anything that would impede the recovery process. We kept rejecting the anti-psychotic medications. He stayed a day and a half in neuro critical care, three days in the brain-rescue unit, and five days in rehabilitation. Then we brought him home. He wore a neck and back brace for three months.

At a follow-up appointment, the brain surgeon greeted him with, “I didn’t think you were going to make it.”4 My son burst into tears. The surgeon said that drinking and taking drugs would make him more susceptible to seizures and that he would be at great risk if he continued. My son then had many sessions in which he blamed me for having taken too rigid a stance on drinking and smoking pot. It was hard, but I was able to listen to him.

Miraculously—he has come through to the other side and is now doing well.

The main message I want to get across is that no young person, thinking fully in the way we know people are capable of, freely acts in non-survival ways. We can’t underestimate the pressure and harshness our boys are up against. There is almost no room for them to be themselves and show how harsh it is for them in the world.


1 “At all costs” means regardless of what that required.
2 “Neuro” means neurological.
3 “Physical sessions” are sessions in which a counselor provides aware and thoughtful physical resistance for a client to push and fight against.
4 “Make it” means survive.

Continuing to Discharge

I have two sons, ages thirty-eight and thirty-four. Both of them use substances that I gave up long ago. I have clocked dozens of hours of discharge on my rage, despair, hopelessness, and confusion.

My younger son began smoking pot (marijuana) with his older brother in his early teens. He has been arrested four times for marijuana-related offenses. The worst was when he sold some marijuana to an undercover cop (a policeman disguised as an ordinary citizen) and was charged with a felony. Although he avoided jail—we helped him find a good attorney—it has affected and limited his life options. For several years I was furious with him, set limits that were not effective, and begged him to wake up and understand how risky his behavior was.

Before either of my sons was born, and when they were young, I smoked pot often. I travelled far from my home to find a place to have a “natural birth” for my oldest son. I never thought that smoking pot during the birth was equivalent to being drugged. Certainly the competent midwives who attended me thought that it was a grand idea to be “stoned”* during labor and delivery, that it would make it all flow more smoothly. I have a photo of me holding my younger son on my lap while he looks at me with fascination as I smoke a pipe full of marijuana.

I finally gave up marijuana when I was thirty-two years old.

At one point, feeling desperate not to lose my connection with my sons, I realized that my disappointment in them was not helping our relationships. Many sessions on how males are targeted by the drug and alcohol industries, on how good my sons are, and on my own substance use as a child who came into adulthood in the late 1960s helped.

I decided to work toward being delighted with my sons and detaching from their decisions about using alcohol and drugs. I said that I was not giving up on them but that I was done with being “the heavy” (the person who judged them and was trying to get them to do what I wanted). I apologized for my own ineffectiveness and mistakes as a parent. I said that I understood that my strong emotions about the issue made me an “unsafe” person and that I was going to work on being relaxed about their decisions. I told them that my own abandonment by adults as a young person left me baffled in the area. Most important, I told them that I considered it my job to stay close to them and that I would never give up, no matter how confusing it got. (These conversations did not all happen at once. They evolved over months of sessions and communications.)

My sons still use alcohol and some marijuana. I have moved into being able to joke with them about it. They are both very good fathers. They were supportive of me when I fought, against the doctor’s wishes, to have surgery with only local anesthesia. Recently, my younger son has begun to open up to me and use my counseling skills to help him in places where he is stuck. I have refrained from “analyzing” his stuck places and have tried to treat him with the respect I give to any beloved Co-Counselor.

I continue to discharge as my heart breaks over and over and over. It breaks for my inadequacies as a parent (my own parents were rigid, and I was permissive). It breaks for the harshness boys and men have to experience in the world. It breaks for the male privilege and domination my sons exhibit, even though I tried so hard as a feminist to raise them to be fair. It breaks for how angry I am at them for doing “stupid” things, like smoke and drink. It breaks for how boys of the global majority (my sons are part Native American) are especially targeted by the criminal justice system. On and on. There’s no end to what I can discharge about.


* “Stoned” means intoxicated.

“Our Strange and Surprising Agreement”

Our child also struggled with drugs and alcohol. In getting her through it, we figured out three things:

1. Every limit needed to be designed to bring us closer together.

2. She needed to see us moving toward her, including getting more flexible in places where we tended to be rigid.

3. We needed to continually communicate that we knew she was smart and were confident about her ability to work things out.

(Some of what I write here is based on what she told me recently about what the struggles were like for her.)

When she was about fifteen, she wanted to fit in and be like other young people. It looked to her like drugs and alcohol were part of that picture. She was also having chronic health problems, including intense daily headaches. We were reluctant to get her pain medication, knowing that it would make discharge more difficult. However, she wasn’t having a lot of big sessions and the ones she was having weren’t doing much for the headaches. We spent a year struggling back and forth about all this. Finally we got some pain medication but did not make it readily available to her; she had to negotiate with us over every pill.

We were concerned about her. But because we didn’t know what to do with this teen who seemed to be rejecting many of our family values, we weren’t nearly as connected to her as we would have liked to be. We kept trying to set limits, but because of the lack of connection they often seemed harsh and arbitrary to her.

During her first year of high school, things finally came to a head.1 Her teacher told me that another student had confessed that he had shared his antidepressants with her and was worried about what she was doing with them. One morning, about a week later, I found both alcohol and marijuana in her backpack. I took them out but did not speak to her about them. I figured that it was better to wait and have it out with her2 after school. By the time she got home, she was furious at me for having invaded her privacy and taken her stuff. She had a huge session, and afterward we talked.

By that time, we had figured out that any limits we set needed to bring us closer to her and that she needed to see us stretching in her direction if we wanted her to move in ours. So the agreements we made at that point were unusual—to say the least:

1. We all agreed that pain medication and alcohol or other drugs could be a dangerous combination. She agreed not to use any alcohol, or drugs not prescribed by her doctor, until she was no longer using any pain medication. In return, we agreed to keep her marijuana and alcohol for her until she could make her own decisions about how to use them. We also agreed to let her make more of her own decisions about the pain medication. She expressed an interest in trying drinking at home, with company, so she could be safe and receive good attention. We agreed that once she wasn’t using pain medication, we would start drinking small amounts of wine with her at dinner. (I ended up drinking about a fourth of a glass and she about half a glass.) This was a little strange for me. I had not used any alcohol in twenty-five years (since starting RC). But the plan worked much better than I expected. It let me model thinking about alcohol: no wine before a session or a class, no wine if I was upset, no wine if I had work to do that needed my whole brain. It also gave her a chance to think out loud about how different amounts of alcohol felt and what made sense to her. She found that she didn’t like how she felt if she drank very much.

2. We agreed that she would spend ten minutes with one of her parents each evening getting one-way attention. She was not happy about this, but the other agreements made sense to her so she cooperated. At first I sat with her every night, looking over the pop3 music on her iPod.4 That was excruciating for me. However, she soon started using the time to think about her life. We stuck rigidly to the plan for a few months, after which she started coming to us for sessions when she was struggling.

3. We agreed that she would try to bring her friends home more often, the idea being that we would feel safer about her being out with them if we knew and liked them.

Later, as she struggled with the headaches and the feelings that came with them, we decided that a small dose of antidepressants might be less harmful than the pain medication. Up until that point, we had been vehemently against antidepressants. But it turned out that5 our agreeing to them was a huge contradiction6 for her. In the end, she tried a low dose (ten percent of the usual dose) for less than a week. Each morning I listened to her about what it felt like. After the fifth day she decided that she hated the way she felt when she took them and stopped. But our agreeing to them seemed to be a turning point in our relationship, and in her relationship to RC.

She had one episode of drinking heavily about a year later, when a close family friend was dying, and then had huge sessions about being so out of control and how much she hated it. When she was nineteen, she decided to try marijuana again and then called home for sessions on how awful it was.

She is away at college now and does drink, but not more than one or two drinks at a time. When she was facing some big feelings this winter, she stopped drinking for a few months because she felt that it wasn’t going to be a good combination. I’m pretty7 sure she is careful not to drink within twenty-four hours of her Co-Counseling class or a Co-Counseling session.

Our daughter is twenty now and generally doing incredibly well. She’s been able to have big sessions with us about drug and alcohol use as long as we remember the three points listed at the beginning of this posting. I wish she didn’t drink at all, but given where she was a few years ago, we’re pleased with the results of our strange and surprising agreement.

Good luck with figuring all this out. Know that we are behind you—cheering you on and knowing that you can do it.


1 “Came to a head” means got to a place where something had to be done.
2 “Have it out with her” means confront her about it.
3 “Pop” means popular.
4 An iPod is a portable electronic device used for storing and playing digital music, movies, and other audio and video items.
5 “It turned out that” means as it happened.
6 Contradiction to distress
7 In this context, “pretty” means quite.

What I've Learned about Young People and Drugs

I used to work for an organization in which adults lived in collectives with young people who were getting off drugs. Although most of the following ideas come from that experience, I find them to be consistent with RC theory (they are not to be taken as recommendations for any specific situation):

• Most of us need confident help in order to break patterns of addiction. They are tough patterns to break. We seldom manage to do it on our own. Someone from the outside who sets necessary limits can be a great help.

• Don’t expect reassurance anytime soon. If you decide to set limits or consequences for an addicted person, don’t expect him or her to discharge and re-evaluate fast enough that you get reassurance quickly. Just remember that you are doing the right thing.

• In everyday situations, it can be hard to both set the limit and be the counselor. Your trying to do this can also be confusing for the young person. If you set a limit, the young person will need to talk and complain about it, as part of his or her processing and re-evaluating. Another adult being the understanding listener, neither trying to uphold the limit nor undermining it, can be of good help in the process. If you try to do both things yourself, the limit might get blurry or the understanding listening part might become conditional. This can make the contradiction1 of someone standing up against the pattern weaker.

• Young people in troubled situations often confide more in adults who uphold (considerate) rules and less in adults who compromise rules and limits for the sake of being a “buddy.” Many adults, including parents, who work with young people find themselves in situations in which upholding a correct rule or setting a necessary limit seems “oppressive” or “mean.” It can feel like giving in2 to the patterned demands of the young person would result in the status of being “cool” or a good friend. However, when things get hard for a young person in treatment, he or she is more likely to confide in the consistent and “stern” adult than the “friendly” one.

• Some addictions are closely connected to certain identities, roles, and activities. Some young people are not able to get off drugs as long as they stay in the same community and with the same friends and activities. This is because the addiction pattern gets restimulated too easily and often. They need to get away from the restimulation in order to break the pattern and cultivate new roles and activities. To be able to stay away from the drugs, they need to form a new identity for themselves. When they have found enough strength and support in their new identity, then they are ready to be exposed to their old life. Other young people are able to make the transition away from drugs without having to change their environment. If that’s possible, it’s probably better—since they learn to deal with the restimulations along the way.

• You may have to stand3 being hated by the person you want to help. Forcing a young person to enter a programme he or she doesn’t want to join can be a bold act of caring. I have seen parents and staff be “hated” for it. Later I have seen the same young person thank the parent or staff for having saved his or her life.

Relapse is often part of the healing process. The road to success in helping a person get off drugs is lined with frustrations and disappointments. It will often feel like everything you have accomplished has been futile and the whole attempt has been a failure. Expect failures and disappointments.

• Drug addictions are often too big a challenge for a family to handle on their own. Both the parents and the young person can benefit from having more people involved—for example, relatives, friends, treatment-center staff, sports coaches, counselors.

Fredrik Eklöf
Oxie, Sweden

1 Contradiction to the distress
2 “Giving in” means succumbing.
3 In this context, “stand” means tolerate, endure.

“Every Issue I Have with Him Is My Issue”

I have a fifteen-year-old (white, Jewish, heterosexual) son. He has been raised in RC with regular special time.1 He is not interested in consciously listening or being listened to, though he takes a session just about every chance he gets. When I set limits or look like I am counseling him, he gets pissed2 and shuts down.3

He comes at me with oppressive remarks almost every time he talks. I have not been able to figure out how to interrupt this pattern, though I think it is good that it comes out of his mouth rather than staying bottled up inside.

I am female, and my son and I live with my female partner in a working-class neighborhood. He wants people to think that he is wealthy and “normal,” and he won’t bring any friends from outside the neighborhood to our home.

He is rude to me in public and often argues with me. Because of the social pressure to control one’s children (we live in the Southern United States, where children say “sir” and “ma’am”), I feel pressure to shut him up4 and make him be polite. I talked to him about this recently and he said, “Well, good. Now I know what embarrasses you in public, and you know what embarrasses me in public, and we can work together.”

When I get scared, lecture, and give advice, he shuts me out. When I am in relaxed listening mode and don’t give advice, he will talk about drugs, sex, and other things that are disturbing and sometimes shocking. If I ask him too many questions, he usually says, “You’re my mom; I’m not supposed to tell you those things.” When I get silly, he gets mad: “Why do you have to be the way you are? Stop it! Act like a mom!”

In my Co-Counseling sessions I work on what it was like as a teen to want material things and to be normal, assimilate, and be popular. I have counseled a lot on my son’s and my relationship and have come to realize that I don’t need to do anything to change him, that every issue I have with him is my issue. When I come from that perspective, he is more loving and affectionate. One of my teachers says, “The biggest gift that you can give someone is to let them be themselves in your presence.”

I was raised poor and remember longing for things. Now I am middle class and can afford to buy things for my son. I have a pattern of wanting to give him everything he wants. Setting limits is not my specialty. When I set a limit, he can usually talk me into changing my mind. I get confused about the difference between being an oppressor and setting limits with love and between what is a rational limit and what is being “controlling.”

Thank you “Jane” for bringing up this difficult topic. It is so important that we are talking about this. We have each other and are not alone!


1 “Special time” is an activity, developed in RC family work, during which an adult puts a young person in full charge of their mutual relationship, as far as the young person can think. For a specific period of time, the adult lets the young person know that he or she is willing to do anything the young person wants to do. The adult focuses his or her entire attention on the young person and follows his or her lead, whether the young person tells, or simply shows, the adult what she or he wants to do.
2 “Pissed” means angry.
3 “Shuts down” means becomes numb and inaccessible.
4 “Shut him up” means make him be quiet.

An RC Class on Alcohol

I led an RC class on the following guideline: “RC teachers are expected not to engage in or defend the use of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, or other mind-altering drugs, including psychiatric drugs.”1 In every meeting we read the guideline and had mini-sessions on what came up for us just from reading it. Then we discussed theory, had more discharge time, did demonstrations, and sometimes used a support-group format.

Over the course of a year, we had sessions on (1) our own use of alcohol, (2) family members’ use of alcohol, (3) societal expectations regarding alcohol use or non-use, (4) feelings about being told what to do or not to do, (5) frozen needs2 to love or be loved that kept us “liberal” with people we loved who were engaged in drinking alcohol, (6) religious and religious-community expectations and teachings that encouraged drinking alcohol.

We covered a lot of ground.3 People had big sessions related to those few words from the Guidelines. We learned just how much discharge is required in order to “think” about alcohol use. I think the same applies to any other drug, to setting limits, and so on.

Marcie Rendon
Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA

1 See Guideline G.2. of the 2013 Guidelines for the Re-evaluation Counseling Communities (the policies for the RC Communities).
2 Frozen need is a term used in RC for a hurt that results when a rational need is not met in childhood. The hurt compels the person to keep trying to fill the need in the present, but the frozen need cannot be filled; it can only be discharged.
3 “Covered a lot of ground” means dealt with a lot of things.

Younger People as Allies?

I am the father of a nine-year-old girl. I’ve shared with her some of these stories about young people and drugs. I want her to know that many people are working to make things go well—in particular in their families and with their children.

Drug issues are showing up1 with older young people in her family and at school. At this point in her life, she is confident that what doesn’t make sense to her now (drugs, alcohol, and so on) will continue to not make sense to her as she gets older. I’m not sure how to store that attitude for future reference. However, I wonder if I could help her think of herself as an ally to the older young people in her life. It could be a powerful contradiction2 for her and for them.


1 “Showing up” means appearing.
2 Contradiction to distress

My Experience, and Some Useful Questions

I am a white, raised-poor, majority-culture married female USer and RC teacher. My son has smoked pot for a number of years. It took a while before I found out and then a while before I could admit it to my Co-Counselors. It was heartbreaking. When I asked for help at an RC family workshop, I was told that he could no longer participate.

The following are some questions that have helped me think about teen drug use and oppression:

1. What do drugs have to offer that we can’t? We parents are under so much pressure to have our children conform, compete, and “succeed” in this profit-driven society. Even if we don’t succumb to this, they are exposed to harsh patterns out in the world. Also, with so much talk of economic problems, young people are under pressure to “figure out what they’re going to do with their life” instead of enjoying their youth and being themselves. Due to all this, they may start using drugs to fit in or cope.

2. How can RC Communities follow the no-drug policy and still support us parents—not reinforce the oppression that says we are “on our own” to figure out “our” problem? We parents need a way to be honest about teen drug use without feeling like we’ll be seen as failures or stigmatized.

3. How is teen drug use related to men’s oppression and sexism? Incidences of rape have increased at U.S. colleges. How does this relate to male dominance patterns in our schools? Maybe boys use drugs to prevent being targeted themselves or to avoid noticing how girls are targeted and they are forced to collude. As with “mental health” oppression, men’s oppression says that to show feelings is to show weakness, invite criticism, and be targeted. Could taking drugs be a way to try to avoid this oppression?

4. How is teen drug use similar to other addictions? How is it different?

5. How can we use the experience and thinking of parents whose teens have used drugs to head off1 drug use for future RC teens? Start with a support group? Our RC experience has shown that once we discharge and put our thinking together, we can move on any issue.

6. How can the RC teens and young adults who don’t use drugs be a resource? I have gotten some good ideas from people I’ve asked. Maybe we could organize panels so that RCers get a better picture of how hugely oppressive things are for teens nowadays.

For my part,2 I tried listening, reasoning, drug testing, bribing, monitoring activities—all with limited success. I discharged lots on the heartbreak of my son’s pot smoking and on classism, my teen years, and more. One useful direction was to try to be as proud of my son as I’d be if he were going to Harvard,3 teaching poor children, winning the Nobel Peace Prize—whatever “standard” my mind could think of.

It hurt to have him be so surly and disconnected from his father and me. I think it helped him when I showed my feelings while I explained why I thought pot was harmful (I did research first).

I also got some helpful advice:

• From an RC young adult leader: “Don’t be mad at him.”

• From a male RCer and former drug user: “You should be more worried about him bombing4 down hills on a longboard5 without a helmet.”

• From an older, non-user sibling: “Be glad it’s only pot and not harder stuff.”6

I started to see how in being so freaked out7 about his smoking pot, I wasn’t seeing the big picture. There was no line between my rational concern and my upset. I bought a book that talked about how a person can legally keep from getting busted.8 That to me was a real threat. The legal system can suck people, especially poor people and people of color, into a never-ending loop. I was not willing to test arrest, except as a last resort—even though some people’s downward spiral has been interrupted by it.

Eventually there was a summer job my son wanted that required a drug test. He had to stay clean9 for four months. His behavior was so much happier and loving (he was back to his true self).

He no longer lives at home, and I’m sure he smokes pot and drinks alcohol. But he is also in a good relationship, going to a trade school, and engaging in physical activities. He has new interests and is making friends who function well.

My husband and I worked hard over the years to support our son in trying different things. We stayed close, but we were also honest about our concerns. We are still struggling to figure all this out. I have huge feelings about the limited life my son could have if drugs continue to be a part of it. I am lucky to have Co-Counselors who know that I am a good mom and my son is a great guy.

To all of the parents with teens using drugs: I thank you for your courage and the deep love you have shown. I would be honored to be a part of anything in RC that helps move this issue forward.


1 “Head off” means prevent.
2 “For my part” means regarding myself.
3 Harvard is a prestigious university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
4 “Bombing” means going extremely rapidly.
5 A longboard is a long skateboard.
6 “Harder stuff” means stronger, more addictive drugs.
7 “Freaked out” means hugely upset.
8 “Busted” means arrested.
9 “Clean” means without any drugs in his body.

We Can Figure This Out Together

Thanks to all the brave parents who have posted about their struggles with teens and drugs, alcohol, and limit-setting. It’s lovely that we can talk about the real-life challenges we face with our teenagers.

Our society does not support parents or children. Capitalism is not working. As parents we have done our best in fighting for our children. We deserve no blame, only support and understanding.


Your children want you, and they always will, so you must not give up on having them close to you. Your children don’t want your patterns, but they want you. And you don’t have to wait until you get rid of all your patterns to reach for them, although at times you might have to pause to discharge, regroup, and try a different way of doing things. (Sometimes your teenager’s patterns don’t want you, but underneath them your teenager wants you forever.)

Your children depend on you to remember that they want you. It confuses them when you forget. They expect you to know it is just their distress that keeps them from coming close to you.

Even if you don’t know what to do, you get to continue figuring out how to get close. I spoke to one dad who was trying to figure out how to get his teenage daughter out of bed when she didn’t want to get up or do anything. One day he was ready to leave for work, but instead he changed out of his suit into some jeans. He said, “I don’t care what you do today, but you’re not staying in bed.” Then he dragged her out of bed. When she headed back to bed, he dragged her out of the house in twenty-degree (Fahrenheit) weather and locked the door. (He had coats for them.) He drove them both to a pond. He said, “I think it will help if we go for a walk. Just trust me on this.” They silently walked and then went back home. She took a shower, did her schoolwork, and went to school just in time to give a presentation at the end of the day. The dad didn’t feel like he knew what he was doing, but he was trying something with his daughter and it worked. (He was not feeling angry while he did it.)

You may have to try lots of different things. They may look messy, or silly and embarrassing, or they may look like a fight. It may take a long time of hanging out1 and not saying much. What works will be different for each teen and may be different each time you try. Your teenager will notice every bit of what you are trying, and, even if you see no results right away, that will help in the long run.2

Remember that we parents are the people our teenagers can show their worst distresses to. They go to school every day and the oppression hits them hard. It’s like they walk in poop3 all day and when they come home they scrape their shoes on us. They often feel really bad about themselves, and they show us just how bad they feel by trying to make us feel bad. And they know how to do that. Our job is to discharge through whatever we need to in order to not have their distresses confuse us.

Allies can be helpful. If your teen is close to another RC adult, that person can play an important role in listening to and supporting your teen, and supporting your relationship with him or her.


Tim Jackins has been directing all of us in the RC Community to work on our early defeats and discouragement so that we can be hopeful, flexible, and in love with life—not just hold directions of hopefulness. This is about parents’ liberation. We get to be liberated human beings. Our children want that for us. It is also a big part of our being able to be there for our children. We are partners with our young people in re-emerging from distress. If they see us struggling through our heavy distresses, they will take note of it and gain hope for themselves.

I would recommend a Co-Counseling session every day when you are in the middle of a difficult spot with your child. We need to discharge to take care of ourselves and get through our chronics.4 We need to discharge to be able to come up with5 new thoughts about our teenagers and so we can be relaxed and light and playful when they are gloomy or distant. We need to discharge to be able to deal with the oppressive things that are coming at us and at them. And we need to do this work to demonstrate to them that it can be done.


Some of us when we found Co-Counseling embraced it fully. We were relieved to find a rational path. We followed all the policies and let them guide us in our lives. That was a smart thing to do. However, many of us didn’t discharge on the policies enough to make them completely our own. Drugs, alcohol, sex, money, class, racism, relationships, Gay oppression, and so on—we all have much to look at in these areas. No one listened to us as we tried to figure them out when we were teens. We feel ashamed and humiliated that we couldn’t figure them out.

Our children sense all the places where we are not clear; they know where we haven’t discharged. And they often can’t use us in these areas and feel like they must go off on their own6 to figure things out. Because we hold up RC policy as what is “right,” and they know that we’re not being entirely honest with them about what we don’t understand, they sometimes reject RC, or are at least confused about it. They also see our desperation in wanting them to do RC and to live rational lives.

They are holding out7 for the real thing—for having us fully and getting the help they need. They want us to discharge about policy and on our desperation. Once we’ve worked on our distresses about policy, we can start conversations about it with our teens, and listen to them and offer help.


Sometimes our young people don’t want to have “sessions” in any way that looks like an RC session. That doesn’t mean that they don’t want us, or don’t want to be listened to, or don’t want to discharge. They want us but without any techniques or familiar counseling shortcuts. They may be sick of 8 the young people’s oppression that is everywhere in their lives and want to be completely in charge when they tell us things. We need to be there with them—sometimes just listening and not saying a thing, sometimes having a normal conversation, and sometimes getting into a fight with them.

At times it’s helpful to show our young ones our struggles. We have trained ourselves not to be clients with them unless they invite us to. That is correct, but we get confused that it means that we must not show ourselves to them. In our wish to protect them, we sometimes hide whole parts of our lives and our histories. As our children grow up, they want to know who we are and what happened to us. We don’t need to talk endlessly about ourselves, but we do need to tell them, perhaps in bite-sized chunks, what happened, so they get a picture of where they came from and why we have our struggles. What happened in our families? What was it like when we were teenagers? What hard things did we face? How did oppression affect our life choices? How do our struggles affect our parenting? Our Indigenous brothers and sisters can lead us here. They are models in the art of storytelling, in it being a way of sharing the history of one’s life, and family, and people.

In summary I will say, take heart,9 parents. Your children love you and want you. You get to want them. Do not blame yourselves for your difficulties, the difficulties of your children, or the society that is falling apart around us. We can figure this out together.

With all my love,

Marya Axner
International Liberation 

Reference Person for Parents
Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

1 “Hanging out” means spending relaxed, unstructured time together.
2 “In the long run” means eventually.
3 “Poop” means excrement.
4 Chronic distress patterns
5 “Come up with” means think.
6 “On their own” means by themselves.
7 “Holding out” means waiting.
8 “Sick of” means tired of.
9 “Take heart” means be encouraged.

Last modified: 2015-07-21 18:22:02+00