Talking to teens about marijuana is necessary but it’s guaranteed to make both parents and teens feel a bit squeamish. Many states have legalized medical marijuana and 11 states have legalized recreational use of marijuana. More and more, parents are asking for tips on how to talk to their teenagers about marijuana.
At what age do I need to talk to my kids about marijuana?
Parents should start the conversation early and often (think approximately age 10). If your child is already a teenager, they likely have already gotten lots of misinformation about marijuana. Your children should be getting good and accurate information from you first. These tips will help arm you with the knowledge and skills that are necessary to successfully navigate the marijuana conversation.
The good news: The conversation about marijuana doesn’t have to be any more difficult than talking to your teenagers about sex or alcohol.
The bad news: The conversation about marijuana is just as difficult as talking to your teenagers about sex or alcohol.
8 Tips to Start the Marijuana Conversation
1. Stay Calm
The quickest way to get your teenager to shut down is to lose control of your emotions. The conversation about marijuana is almost guaranteed to make you and your teen feel emotional and uncomfortable. As a parent, you must remain calm. Take multiple slow deep breaths before getting the conversation started. I’d encourage you, or your teen, to ask for a “timeout” from the conversation if things get too emotional (just make sure you’re all committed to returning to it soon). Do not have the conversation about marijuana during a different fight. Find a time when you’re all in a good and calm mood.
2. Get the Facts Straight About Marijuana
This is both a crucial step and a very difficult one. There is lots of misinformation on the internet and you need credible resources. I’d recommend getting some basic factual information about marijuana for parents here and for teens here. You can also get a useful fact sheet from the State of Colorado website here.
Be cautious not to equate “Correlation” with “Causation” because it’ll make you seem misinformed and your teen will think that ALL of your information is not credible. For example: Teen marijuana use is CORRELATED with higher high school drop out rates. This does not mean that smoking marijuana as a teenager will necessarily CAUSE the teenager to drop out of high school. Learn more about correlation vs causation here.
Another guaranteed way to get your teenager to shut down is to make them feel like they aren’t being listened to (or understood). Lecturing your teen on the dangers of marijuana is sure to fail. Parents should be doing just as much listening as they are talking. The goal is to have an open, calm, supportive conversation. As a result of your open-mindedness, your teen will be much more likely to be open-minded as well.
4. Don’t Lie
Parents need credibility in this conversation and lying will kill your credibility. Be prepared to answer questions about your own marijuana use. Remember you don’t need to be perfect in order to have the conversation. Also, as stated above, be cautious not to overstate the harms of marijuana use. While there are many real dangers to teen drug use, you’ll discredit yourself if you exaggerate those dangers.
5. Focus on Positive
Encourage your teen to participate in pro-social and healthy activities. Listen to what your teen’s interests are. Show interest in their hobbies, no matter how uninteresting it may be to you. Rather than harping on what you don’t want your teen doing, focus on what their goals are. Help your child identify productive activities that will help them reach their goals.
6. Be Clear on Rules
After parents and teens have an open and calm conversation about marijuana, parents need to jointly agree on their family rules around marijuana. These rules need to be clear and simple. The rules and the potential consequences to breaking the rules need to be implemented consistently. I’ll repeat this because it’s VERY important: be consistent! It’s alright to update the rules, but parents need to be clear about the rules and enforce them consistently.
7. Watch Your Giggles
While it might seem like a good idea to slip lots of marijuana humor into the conversation to break the tension, parents should be careful not to send the wrong impression. Remember, 93% of communication is non-verbal. If you are making light of the conversation, your teenager might get mixed messages. Keeping the conversation calm and relaxed is good but teenagers need to know that this is also a serious subject.
8. Keep the Conversation Going
You’re not off the hook after one awkward conversation. This is an on-going conversation that you’ll need to revisit as your teenager works their way through early adulthood. Therefore, your goal is to be a consistent parent that your child feels safe and comfortable talking to. It is your responsibility to create an environment that is safe for your child to open up in.
One of my favorite resources on this subject is Colorado’s Department Of Public Health’s “Responsibility Grows Here” campaign. They have loads of great tips, depending on your child’s age. Lisa Damour at the New York Times wrote a good piece about this topic as well.
If you live in the Winston-Salem area and would like more help to successfully talk to your children about marijuana, Christopher John Counseling can help. Chris specializes in working with teens and families that are dealing with substance abuse issues. Click here to schedule a free consultation at Christopher John Counseling today.