NEW YORK (CNN) — Pink hair, piercings and the name Emily -- Iowa father Paul Plate saw his own teenage daughter as he read about a different Emily's harrowing experience with synthetic marijuana.
Plate had already had the conversation about the drug with his daughter. But reading about Emily Bauer, a Texas high school student left brain-damaged after smoking "potpourri" she bought at a convenience store, really put him in her parents' shoes.
"I felt horrible for her. I know we all do stupid things as kids, but to have an outcome like this is dreadful," said Plate, one of the thousands of readers who took the time to comment on the CNN.com story. "I am a sucker for my little girl, so I know how I would feel in their place."
Bauer's tale set off warning bells for parents across the country: What is this drug? Why didn't her family keep her from smoking it? What should I tell my kids? What if that were my daughter?
The teenager's symptoms of psychosis and strokes would jolt just about any parent into a conversation about the dangers of synthetic marijuana. Add in the statistics about the drug's popularity -- one in every nine U.S. high school seniors has admitted to smoking fake weed, according to a 2011 study -- and parents were alarmed.
While parents like Plate sympathized with the Bauers, others said it would never happen to their kid.
"The story points to another example of people who shouldn't be allowed to be parents," wrote Lynn DeArmond, who added she was thankful Emily is recovering.
She said her six children understand that using weed is unacceptable and they would face consequences if they smoked it. "Parents need to start being parents instead of friends. To do otherwise results in these kind of stories or worse."
On the other side of the debate were parents who might allow their children to smoke real marijuana if that would keep them from experiencing Emily's fate.
One dad argued for its legalization and suggested monitoring children while they try pot.
"Honestly, if my child was seriously showing signs of wanting to smoke pot, or even just try it, I'd probably buy it for them myself and make them do it at home, in a safe environment, just to make sure they're responsible," commenter Rob Doerr wrote.
"I think that's the responsible thing to do. You're being a parent, and monitoring your kid, making sure they don't do anything dumb."
Emily's stepfather, Tommy Bryant, welcomed the conversation because he wants to raise awareness of the drug, even if some of the comments weren't so kind.
"I don't wish this upon anybody," he said. "My purpose is not to judge myself or judge others, but to get Emily well and help others learn from our mistakes, because obviously we did make a mistake, and I'll be the first to admit it."
While Bryant knows there will be critics and people out there questioning his parenting, he said he's just thankful to have more time with his daughter.
"I think back to all the fond memories I have of her, then I realize that somehow, I got another chance to make more," he said on Wednesday. "And these new memories may actually impact others in a positive way ... I am thankful."
Parents: Do you talk to your children about the dangers of drugs? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.