Dear Harlan,

I found out that my daughter, who has been at college for less than one month, has started smoking pot. This from a girl who has always been strongly opposed to drug use. She is hanging out with a bunch of kids who smoke. I am shocked by her behavior. We talked at length about my expectations for her before she went away. I am paying for her private-school education at great personal sacrifice. Many employers make random drug testing a requirement to continue working. I am thinking of requiring her to submit to random drug tests or forfeit my financial support. What do you think?

Shocked Mom

Dear Shocked,

This is shocking. It’s disappointing, a waste of money, a betrayal of trust and she needs to be taught a lesson — at least these are some of the thoughts racing through your mind. I know this is upsetting, but try to think about it from her point of view. Why the dramatic change? What’s going on in her life that makes her think this is a good choice? Why isn’t she making other friends? The pot is a symptom of something deeper. Maybe she thinks it’s not a big deal (it’s nearly legal in some states). Maybe in her mind she’s being responsibly stupid. Maybe she’s depressed or homesick and this is her way of coping. Testing her just tells her she’s failed and you don’t trust her. It will alienate her. It’s failing to address the deeper issues. It turns you into a cop, not a mom. Visit her. Find out why she’s making these choices. Help her see that she has options. Get her help if she needs it. Appreciate that you can’t control her. Testing her might just get her to start drinking. Help her think about the choices. She needs guidance — not a drug test.

Hi Harlan,


We were both 22, getting our master’s degrees and enrolled in a conservation of natural resources class. We were on a field trip to the water-treatment plant when I asked the man working in the plant for some sludge to take home. He gave it to me. The field trip continued to the sewage-disposal plant.

Being curious, my classmate asked me what I was doing with the sludge. I explained that my mother was a county-extension agent, and one of her co-workers requested that I return from my trip with it. To this day, I don’t know why they wanted it. But that sludge got me my man. The next class, the curious classmate sat behind me and asked me for a date. The rest is history.

It’s now been 40 years and we have two beautiful daughters, two terrific son-in-laws and three precious grandchildren — summer love!


Dear Ann,

Sewage-treatment plants can be so romantic. Had you never asked for sludge, he might not have asked you on a date.

Harlan is the author of “The Happiest Kid On Campus: A Parent’s Guide to the Very Best College Experience (for You and Your Child)” (Sourcebooks). Write Harlan at [email protected] or visit online: All letters submitted become property of the author. Send paper to Help Me, Harlan! 2506 N. Clark St., Ste. 223, Chicago, IL 60614.

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