Dear Therapist:

Our 16 year old son is a good kid but not really cut out for learning and struggles in yeshiva. Because of this we try and give him some extra space and don’t pressure him too much. We allow him and his friends to hang out in our house, on the porch, in the basement, etc. because we figure it’s better that we keep an eye on him. Recently he and his friends have taken up smoking hookah. We aren’t thrilled about the health issues and don’t care for the whole “chill” atmosphere that goes along with it. Our main concern however is that people have told us that hookah and the hookah vibe is a kind of gateway to marijuana. Is this something we should be worried about? How strong should we push back against it?



I can’t tell you whether smoking hookah will lead your son or his friends toward marijuana or other drugs. Some people never “graduate” from hookah (or cigarettes or vaping). Others jump from one level to another. The main determinant with regard to a concern about habitual drug use is obviously the presence (or absence) of an addictive “nature.” Some people can try an addictive substance once (or many times), then easily leave it in the past. For others, a chemical reaction in the brain can lead to a lifelong struggle with addiction.

You are right to be concerned. The question is what level of control you have. If forbidding the use of hookah will stop your son from smoking, thereby avoiding future associated problems, then what prompts you to allow him to continue? If you’re worried that he will feel resentful, causing him to act out in other ways, you need to weigh the ills of smoking hookah against those of other possible actions. If you believe that forbidding hookah use will only cause your son to smoke outside of your supervision, your sense that a supervised “chill” is better than an unsupervised one is probably a good call.

There is often a fine line that parents walk between being too permissive and being too strict. Excessive permissiveness can lead kids to believe that their parents are okay with their questionable actions. This can cause them to continue to push the envelope, leading to continuously problematic behavior. However, being overly stringent can cause kids to hide their behavior, which can also lead to a troubling increase in these types of behaviors. In addition, if this occurs, parents are often left in the dark until problems become clearly apparent.

Your approach will depend on your relationship with your son, his maturity, and other personal factors. Being honest with him about your concerns can help him to understand that his actions concern you, but that you’re willing to allow certain things—up to a point. If your son understands that you don’t want him smoking hookah, but that you will allow it only under parental supervision, he may be less likely to smoke elsewhere. This can allow you to maintain some semblance of control over his actions. If he also understands your concerns about drugs, he might be able to see marijuana as the line drawn in the sand.

I don’t know what rules and consequences you have in place. If these are made very clear while “properly” walking the fine line, this can add a measure of security and control for you. Using the above example of a clear rule allowing hookah use only under supervision, a possible consequence of breaking this rule may be loss of cell phone use for a prescribed period of time. Understanding your concerns, rules, and consequences can help your son to remain safe, and to learn how to regulate his desires and actions.


Yehuda Lieberman, LCSW

 psychotherapist in private practice

 Brooklyn, NY   |   Far Rockaway, NY

 author of Self-Esteem: A Primer / 718-258-5317