The debate over whether marijuana should or shouldn’t be legalized will likely be with us for a long time. If you are a parent, you no doubt have a strong opinion on the matter, either for or against legalization.

Ultimately, the prevalence of marijuana in society won’t come down to legislation, which has proved unable to control the widespread availability of such substances. After all, just about any high school or college student knows where to get drugs, despite the law.

What will ultimately decide whether a child grows up to use any kind of substance is something I don’t see being addressed in the arguments for or against.

When anyone abuses anything — from alcohol to food, drugs, or sex — they are screaming that they feel “empty” inside. There’s a void, a hollow, where there ought to be a solid sense of themselves.

A child who knows their true self — who is deeply rooted in their essence — has no internal sense of “emptiness.”

There’s no void to have to fill.

Instead, their life flows from a feeling of well-being, as who they are discovering themselves to be seeks to express itself creatively and meaningfully.

I believe that the sense of being a person of inestimable value is the taproot of responsible behavior at all ages. And this is a feeling that can be cultivated in childhood — something we really can do something about — for we all come into the world initially feeling wonderful about ourselves. We are excited to be alive.

When “wonderful” truly describes how our children feel about themselves, they are no longer driven by an internal sense of lack. They don’t “have to have” something in order to feel like a complete and valid person, though they may enjoy many things in a manner that’s uplifting.

When children truly know their own mind, neither do they bow to peer pressure.

The question is why our children lose this wonderful feeling of being the person they are that they were born with. I believe it happens because of the way we parent, along with how we react to children’s behavior in our schools.

We pump a huge amount of money into the “war on drugs.” What I would like to see is for us to address the fundamental parenting issue that underlies this social issue.

I would like to see us move to a style of parenting that will bring our children up so they have no need to abuse anything in their lives, but instead make intelligent choices in everything.
In my practice as a clinical psychologist, I’m interested not so much in teaching “quick fix” parenting techniques, but in children knowing who they are.


When our kids know and respect who they are, they don’t need to get blitzed or stoned, let alone engage in meaningless sex, in order to have a good time. Because their lives are fulfilling, whatever they participate in is thought out and enjoyed responsibly.

As a society, if we dedicated the sums of money we sink into fighting substance abuse into helping our children discover and be true to themselves, we would have a very different society.

If we put our minds to it — if we become intentional as a society — we can raise a generation that has no desire to binge on anything, let alone to drop out. Through our homes and schools, we can bring up children to be self-directed and responsible. We can raise children who love themselves, value themselves and want to express their creative nature by building a better world.

The way to do this is to begin practicing what I call “conscious” parenting. To parent consciously — which is the opposite of most of the reactive parenting I see among many parents, not to mention often advocated in parenting books — requires us to connect with our child’s essence.

This is about getting to know them at a much deeper level than the person we think they “ought” to be or imagine them to be. It’s about discovering who they really are.

When we shelve our expectations of who our child should be, and instead tune into their real self, they no longer have a need to act out. After all, all bad behavior is a form of acting out.

Conscious parenting requires us to find out what our children are trying to tell us through their poor behavior. When we find out what’s driving them, it totally changes how we respond to them. Our responses are not determined by their surface behaviors but instead by who it is they are on an internal level. Their being-state is always honored over and above their actions.

Children who are raised with their emotions and self-hood validated on a moment-to-moment basis grow to be self-directed and self-aware. Such children rarely feel the need to check out via drugs or alcohol. Instead, they are fully checked-in. Life is not something they need to escape from. Instead, it is to be danced and played with. With engagement, fearlessness and joy.

To view my TEDx talk on Conscious Parenting click, here.

Dr. Shefali

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