A Guide For Talking To Your Teens About Marijuana

Tips for parents: Listen. Be honest. Be firm. And resist scare tactics.

talking to your teens about marijuana
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The American Academy of Pediatrics on Monday published a report warning parents about the potential harms of cannabis for teens as states continue to legalize the herb for adult use. But how do you go about talking to your teens about marijuana?

The influential group opposes marijuana use for kids and says emphasizing that message is important because 28 states have legalized medical use for adults, and eight states have legalized adults’ recreational use.

“Parents will say, ‘I use it moderately and I’m fine with it, so it’s really benign and not a problem if my kid uses it,'” according to Dr. Seth Ammerman, a Stanford University pediatrics professor who co-wrote the report.

Most national marijuana advocacy groups are in agreement with pediatricians: Recreational cannabis consumption, like alcohol and tobacco, is for adults only. In all eight legal states, the laws are clear: Consumers of marijuana must be 21 or older.

Medical use is a different issue. There are children who suffer from a number of diseases of conditions who are using cannabis under the care of doctors. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics’ website agrees:

However, given that some children who may benefit from cannabinoids cannot wait for a meticulous and lengthy research process, the Academy recognizes some exceptions should be made for compassionate use in children with debilitating or life-limiting diseases.

The group also acknowledges that there is not sufficient data to suggest legalization is causing widespread harm. Sharon Levy, chair of the AAP Committee on Substance Abuse says:

“It is true we do not yet have data documenting changes to child health in response to the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado.”

As the laws change and acceptance of marijuana as a mainstream product increases, it is wise for parents to have a strategy for discussing this important issue.

Dr. Bonnie Halpern-Felsher, another Stanford pediatrics professor says, “if adolescents perceive low risk and high benefit to any particular substance, then they are more likely to go on and use those products.”

This is where good parenting comes in. Have “The Talk” with your children. Here are some tips for a thoughtful, effective conversation:

Listen To Your Child

Give your son or daughter a voice. Often, your conversation will be more effective if you let them tell you what they think they know. It may be easier for you to rebut some of the claims they have heard among their peers first. Listen to what their arguments or questions or concerns are. It’s a great starting point to a thoughtful conversation.

Avoid Reefer Madness Cliches

Many of these conversations fail when the parent uses uninformed arguments that have been debunked by science and common sense. Your child, hopefully, has learned some critical thinking skills. When you attempt to scare them by saying weed will lead to hard drugs, your child knows better. The gateway theory is not likely to work. When presidents, congressmen, business leaders admit to using cannabis, children will likely tune out.

Be Clear About What The Laws Mean

Tell them that marijuana may be legal in some states, maybe even your state … for ADULTS. There are no states that have legalized it for minors. This point should be emphasized. It is definitely illegal for them to use marijuana. It’s the same for beer, booze, cigarettes and a whole host of products exclusively for adults. Explain to them the legal ramifications if they should violate the law. Also let them know that in some cases (growing or selling even small amounts) may lead to serious trouble for them and you. Yes, as a parent of a grower or dealer, the entire household could be jeopardized.

Explain What ‘Synthetic Cannabinoids’ Are

Spice, K2 and other “synthetic cannabinoids” are an easy-to-find substitute for marijuana. Make sure your child knows the difference. The synthetics are much more dangerous than the herb and many children are turning to these. Explain to your child that these products are far worse and could lead to serious harm.

One Chat May Not Be Enough

Like more conversations you have with your child, you’ll more than likely need a few follow-up chats. Often times, the words of a parent go in one ear and out the other. (I’m sure every parent understands this.) Find opportunities to have a talk about it in a relaxed situation. Maybe there is a news story worth discussing. Or a celebrity says something. Or a new study comes out. If it becomes a normal topic of conversation, your child may be more receptive.

Set Appropriate Punishment

When you set family rules, it is imperative that the punishment fits the crime. It also is key to enforce the punishment. If grades are slipping or you notice other warning signs, make sure you are proactive and let your child know you are paying attention. It is human nature for teens to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior. It is your role as a parent to ensure they understand where the boundaries are. Set clear rules. Make sure the child knows what they are.

Be Honest

Don’t be cagey about the truth. Trust is important in any relationship and it is key in a parent-child relationship. If you have consumed in the past (or currently), don’t lie. Once your fib is exposed, your credibility is damaged.

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