Almost all of the current public discussion around repealing the prohibition of cannabis starts from the self-blinded position that legalization will make marijuana available to kids. Many parents in states that have approved marijuana for recreational use for adults 21 years and older are finding themselves hard pressed to have meaningful conversations with their younger children and teens about marijuana’s changing legal status.
Well, the first thing that parents’ need to realize is, that is that marijuana ’a legal status hasn’t changed for those under 21 years of age and that the same principles that have been shown to help keep kids on a healthy positive developmental trajectory will still work now too.
Parents seem more confounded by the changing social landscape than kids
I sense that teens are less confused about the legal issues surrounding marijuana than they are over the mixed-messages that they are receiving between the reality of legalization as they experience it in their daily lives and the same old “scare tactic” drug prevention campaigns directed toward them to deter underage marijuana use and that vilify all drug use; make no distinction between use and misuse; offer no safety advice or how to avoid misuse. Such campaigns may be catchy public relations stunts that attract attention, but they don’t appeal to young people’s natural intelligence and do nothing to keep our children safe.
Honest conversations about marijuana with our kids are more important than ever.
Now is not the time for the half-truths, mistruths, scare tactics and exaggerations of the past. Our kids need realistic truthful drug information about drug effects with sound advice about how to reduce the harms of use; they also need adults to model and teach the concepts of honesty, safety, responsibility and moderation in this new legalized drug landscape.
Words of Advice
Be courageous enough to tell them the truth – they’ll appreciate it. Work to educate your children so they understand that the changes in drug laws are the function of a national drug policy based on bad laws that we are working very hard to change.
Set a good example for them, communicate your desire for them to delay their age of first use as long as possible, and if your teen decides to use marijuana or drink alcohol, they should know enough to treat it as a serious decision, avoiding over-intoxication or objectionable behavior. Below are are some marijuana conversation scenarios that you can have with your kids.
Explain that many adult activities are inappropriate for children
There are many adult activities that are unsuitable for children. You can cite examples (e.g., driving a car, entering contracts, getting married, sex, drinking, etc.) Explain that using marijuana is one of these “adults-only” activities, and should be avoided until they are old enough to make responsible, adult decisions.
Make a distinction between responsible use and misuse.
People use marijuana and alcohol in different ways, sometimes on an occasional basis, perhaps monthly or on weekends. People can even smoke marijuana on a daily basis and still be responsible users. The difference is that responsible users integrate their marijuana use with their other activities as a way to relax or enhance their lives.
Someone misusing any drug has a lifestyle that revolves around their use and they don’t seem to get much else done. Responsible users are people with full lives, and accept responsibility for their own decisions and actions without having to pass off blame to others. Make clear your values to your kids, i.e., you are not going to accept laziness or excuses for dropping grades — you expect them to live full and productive lives, whether they use cannabis or not. If they cannot do that, they should leave cannabis alone.
Emphasize that cannabis is not like other illegal drugs.
Adult use of marijuana has little or no negative health effects except for the irritation from its smoke. That is not true of other drugs, so emphasize that pills and powders are inherently different than plants. That is the simplest line to draw. But, they need to know that all “drugs” are not the same — they have different effects and risks. However, since we do not yet fully understand the impact of marijuana use to the developing teen brain, we recommend that teens wait as long as possible before starting to use marijuana or alcohol.
Get to the bottom line – what you want/expect. Don’t beat around the bush.
Be clear with your expectations. Remember: more powerful than any lecture is your active participation, interest, and supervision in your child’s life.
Why was it illegal and now legal?
The growing acceptance of cannabis use in our society is because voters felt that it should be legally available for adults 21 and older to use marijuana similarly to how some adults use alcohol. It doesn’t mean it’s safe for you to use, especially as you start driving. As a young person, your brain is still developing, and substances like marijuana and alcohol may have a negative effect on your learning, memory, coordination and decision‑making abilities.
What about the children? Legalization can’t be good for them. We’ve been told for so long that marijuana was bad.
Rather than protecting the young and vulnerable, the war on drugs has placed them at ever greater risk – from the harms of drug use, the harms of zero-tolerance policies in schools and the risks of being caught up in the violence and chaos of the criminally controlled trade on the streets. We want a market legally regulated by responsible government authorities, combined with the redirection of enforcement spending into evidence-based health and prevention programs aimed at young people.
Parents should go slowly
Focus on having conversations with their teens – not confrontations. It’s easy to understand how parental shame, denial and guilt are common reactions to potential drug use – but parents need to work through these reactions to figure out how to best help their children to ultimately learn to make the best decisions for themselves.