Our main reaction throughout was: how lucky are we that he just ASKED us for our opinion about this stuff? In a very sweet and open way.
We're not sure what gave, but on a long car ride home after a day trip to go kayaking and snorkeling, he just got super chatty. (The snorkeling was the sweetest thing ever, with T. grabbing my arm to point out all the fish he saw and exclaiming through his snorkel, with his big eyes behind the mask.) The subsequent chat was all very sweet - questions like "Would you think I was a bad person if I once tried x...?" Open invitation to parent.
We found out pretty much everything we might have wanted to know and then some, and got to deliver our main (and thankfully, rehearsed) message: ground rules are to stay safe, keep in touch with us, and make smart choices. The rules are deliberately open to interpretation, in order to invite discussion and leave room for us to negotiate situations as they arise.
We also said that on drugs, our position is that any one of cocaine, meth, heroin and excessive alcohol will rip a hole in your life and are highly addictive and to be avoided at all costs. On marijuana - about which he was very curious and really knew his stuff - we told him honestly that we believe it should be legal, but that, given that we live in a world where it is illegal, it's best not to smoke pot lest you attract attention from school authorities and/or the police that might interrupt your ability to achieve your dreams.
On sex, since he asked, we reviewed our basic philosophy: try to wait until you feel ready for the responsibility, make sure you like your partner a lot, because the wrong relationship can mess up your life, and third......here we asked him what he thought came next. "Use protection" Yes, right answer! "When?" we said. "Every time." Yes! He got congrats for knowing the answer. And extra credit for being so shy and polite in inquiring about our opinion on the issue - no euphemism or crude slang or know-it-all attitude.
And we got to say the most important thing of all, which was that we are not going to give him up if and when he makes mistakes or does things we don't agree with. That was clearly what he was trying to find out with all his questions. We said "Nothing will ever make us change our mind about you. You may make choices we think don't keep you safe and support your goals, and then we will give you guidance. But you have a special light inside you that shines out and lets us know that you're a person who has a lot of good to offer the world and nothing will ever make us think you're bad inside." He nodded so vigorously at that, with his big sweet smile and said he thinks he has good self-esteem. It's impossible to describe the relief and affection and happiness that were beaming out from the backseat by that point.
We also talked about some experiences he had with his past foster mom, and it gave us a chance to find out all kinds of things, about his closest friends, and what they mean to him, and what their issues are. We could hardly stop him from talking. He had a long list of minor infractions he wanted to let us in on, like a Catholic who has been waiting a decade to go to confession, and, finding himself with a friendly forgiving priest, offers up every last thing he can think of. We heard a touching story about how he hit a kid in school last year, because the kid called his mama "the b word." Touching, because he doesn't even know his mama very well, and because we know he was subsequently suspended from school, then booted from his foster home because of the fight. We even got a long story about a fistfight he was THINKING about having several years ago in elementary school; the fight never actually materialized, but he wanted us to know that he would have fought the kid, and maybe even holds a grudge against him still. He practically had the hysterical giggles by this point, brought on by all the full disclosure.
Later that night he arranged for us to pick up his old best friend from a former foster home and go to the county fair. When we got there the next day at the appointed time, the friend didn't appear. T. was visibly heartbroken and spent half an hour trying to track him down. It turns out the friend's mom doesn't like T. because she perceives that he's a bad influence and so probably sabotaged the plan. It was terrible to see him so crestfallen. In the time-honored tradition of parents rendered helpless by teen social complexity, we threw money at the problem, buying him a temporary tattoo, a ride on the mechanical bull, and an ice cream until finally he connected with some secondary friends. They went off for awhile, but T. used the cell phone we lent him to keep in touch throughout, and even called us once and let me come over and meet them. One of the girls was quite rude and visibly shocked that I'm white, but I ignored that casually, chatted for a minute, and then waved and said good bye. He seemed immune to the attitude and at ease talking with me in front of his friends.
We rejoined T. later and he was somewhat consoled, having won a giant stuffed dog and bought a few trinkets for himself. We'll see what happens next weekend. He's supposed to have another friend over to our house for a visit, but I think his confidence about these old friendships is shaken.