Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: My teenage son is using ketamine and cocaine

A friend has suggested we kick him out onto the streets, but we can't bear it

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

Our son is taking drugs. He’s still at school – only 17 – and he’s into ketamine and cannabis, and he often comes home completely out of it. We’ve talked to him, we’ve asked the mother of a friend who is now mentally damaged as a result of it to come and talk to him, and even his own contemporaries are worried about him. But there seems to be nothing we can do. A friend has suggested we kick him out onto the streets, but neither my wife nor myself could bear to do that. Some of the time he seems fine. But is there anything you can suggest?


Yours sincerely,




Virginia says...

Sometimes there’s nothing a parent can “do”, however much they long to. You’ve made it absolutely clear where you stand on all this, and it may be that you’ve just got to sit tight and hold on to your hat. Maintain the disapproval, but tone down the “shock horror” reaction. A shrug and a comment about how pathetic he’s being when he’s stoned will be more effective from now on. Along, of course, with perhaps a more understanding attitude, when he’s drug-free, about his obvious discomfort about the stage he’s at now.

Seventeen is a tricky age for males. They’re neither boys nor men, they’re baffled about what they actually are, and they can often swing from being confident and responsible to being positive babies. Although I’m sure it’s against your instincts, it might, oddly, be a moment to try to give him more rather than less responsibility. Showing your own vulnerability now and again and looking to him for a bit of support – and then telling him how grateful you are for it – would boost his ego no end. Ask him for help with things. It’s one thing to ask him to mow the lawn, which will meet, I imagine, with furious resistance; another thing to say that you’ve got a cracking headache and you’re just too knackered to do it yourself, and then, if he manages to do even a bit of it, telling him he’s a mowing genius. Or ask him to read over a difficult letter you’ve written – and take his suggestions on board. Or ask him to explain a computer game to you and confess that you’re clueless.

I imagine you’ve talked to his teachers and got their take on things. It may be that he’s unhappy about something he’s not telling you about or it may be that he’s in with a bad crowd or just trying break away from what he see as a claustrophobic or controlling home environment. His teachers will have views. Listen to them.

Anyway, didn’t you go a bit off the rails at your son’s age? Just because ketamine wasn’t the drug of choice when you were young doesn’t mean to say you might not have given it a go if it had been. Most of us look back on ourselves at that age and wince when we see what lucky escapes we had.

I had a young relative who was into ketamine at about the same age, and luckily he escaped unscathed when he was 19. Don’t even consider throwing your son out onto the streets. With any luck, he will, simply, grow out of it.

Virginia Ironside will appear in ‘Growing Old Disgracefully’ at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms on 12 August

Readers say...

Show him respect

Ignore the idiot who advised you to kick out your son. You owe him a duty of care. He is old enough to make his own choices, maybe not always good ones. All you can do is to demonstrate that you love and respect him; that his drug-taking is not a problem for you per se (when did you have your first alcohol?); that you are well informed and intelligently concerned about the ketamine, and that it’s your job as parents to be sure he is, too.

Any attempt to control  him is likely to be counter-productive. Although in important ways he is still a child, communication has to be adult-to-adult from here on.

Andy, by email

Send him away

The same thing happened with our son’s best friend. It is a lonely, agonising situation. I’d remove him from school now and send him on a Raleigh expedition to Borneo. Three months of focused, physically tough teamwork, with strong leaders, no access to drugs or alcohol, helping poorer yet arguably happier communities – this could save him from the point of no return. He can complete his “education” later.

Name and address supplied

Next week’s dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My husband and I are separated and for the last year my husband’s taken my four-year-old son out on his own at weekends. For the last month, I’ve been persuaded to let my son stay over once a week, which means he has to meet his father’s new girlfriend. I have no objection, but I’ve been extremely upset to hear my son twice, when talking of her, referring to her as “Mum”. My husband says our son’s been told to call her by her Christian name, but I wonder. It hurts so much I feel like stopping him visiting, though of course I wouldn’t do that.

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Sandra to do?

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