How to Talk to Your Child About Marijuana: 4 Responses for Parents

How to Talk to Your Child About Marijuana: 4 Responses for Parents

Since Colorado voters passed a law earlier this year legalizing the sale and  purchase of marijuana, many parents have wondered what this means for their  children’s future. As a resident of Colorado, I have been inundated with  questions from concerned parents wondering not only how to broach this topic  with their kids, but how to frame their responses and keep kids healthy and  safe.

Kids  this age may think they already know all the facts based upon information passed  through peer groups, but just as with sex and alcohol, many times their  information is just false.


Watching an illegal substance become legal and available for sale is an  unusual occurrence in modern day American society. No generation since the days  of prohibition can recall this sort of transition from illegal to legal, so it’s  understandable that there are fears and concerns surrounding the legalization of  marijuana.  Like most issues parents are forced to face, this topic, regardless  of how one feels about it, can serve as a wonderful spring board for parents to  discuss the reality of substance use and abuse in our culture.

Related: Teach your child the most  important skills that will help him now and later in life.

First and foremost, it’s important for parents and kids to understand what  the legalization of marijuana means for all of us.  Marijuana sales are  currently only legal in two states (Colorado and Washington), while other states  have dispensaries that only provide marijuana to individuals who carry a medical  needs card. Rules and laws vary from state to state, but it’s important to note  that the use of marijuana is considered a substance reserved for those 21 years  old and over. The law does not allow anyone under 21 to possess or consume  marijuana and it is illegal for all individuals to  drive while under the influence of marijuana.  On the federal level, the law is  still the same, meaning that marijuana is still illegal.  While these details  may seem unimportant, they are critical facts to keep in mind when you begin the  discussion with your child about marijuana use.

When you discuss any difficult topic with your child, the best place to begin  is educating them with the best facts and information you can find.  Beginning a  computer search with your child to explore what cannabis is and its effects on  the body can be a great place to start.  For instance, you can uncover facts  such as how the chemicals in marijuana affect the body, the developing brain of  a teen or pre-teen, judgment, sleep, and overall health.  Like with alcohol, you  can tell your child that marijuana is a mind-altering substance that can have  negative consequences for all people, but especially for teenagers who are still  developing physically and emotionally.  You can assign your child the “homework” of finding one or two articles that discuss, from a medical perspective, how  marijuana affects the brain and what the side effects can be when used. Use  these articles as a springboard for discussing marijuana together.

If you are against legalizing marijuana, having this conversation with your  child may be easy.  If you are in support of legalization, or are currently  using marijuana yourself, it may be harder to encourage your child to see the  downside of marijuana use.  Keep in mind that regardless of your personal  feelings about marijuana use and legalization, it is still illegal for people  under 21 to use marijuana, even if it is legal in your state.  This knowledge  should guide you in what information you decide to impart to your child.

Related: My Child has “Toxic” Friends.

Next, keep in mind the age of your child when discussing marijuana.  For  younger children (elementary age), giving information on a need-to-know basis  can be best.  For older kids (middle school, high school age), helping sort fact  from fiction about what marijuana is and what its effects are is useful.  Your  child may protest, stating that they “already know all about it”, but don’t let  them off the hook that easily.  Kids this age may think they already know all  the facts based upon information passed through peer groups, but just as with  sex and alcohol, many times their information is just false.  Begin the  conversation by asking, “Okay, so tell me what you know about marijuana”.  Let  your child talk, uninterrupted, until they tell you all they know.  If some of  their information is incorrect, before supplying them with the correct  information, ask them the following questions:

“I’m curious how you got that idea about marijuana?”

“I hear you saying that marijuana isn’t that bad for you because John said  it’s legal, but where do you think he’s getting that information?”

“I know a lot of people think that marijuana isn’t as bad for you as alcohol  but there’s a bit more to it than that. I think we should talk about it.”

Your child may have some difficult questions for you about marijuana use and  you should be prepared to answer them as honestly and intelligently as possible.  Below are some possible comments/questions you may face and some responses you  might find useful.

Related: How to coach your child without stepping in to  fix it for her.

1. If marijuana is legal it’s not bad for me

Explain to your child that this isn’t necessarily true, that there are a  number of substances that are legal such as alcohol, tobacco, and narcotics, but  also potentially dangerous or even life threatening if used or abused.  Point  out that safety issues for all legal substances is always a concern because you  never know how a drug will affect you. We know for certain that substance use  among kids is never good due to the brain still developing.  You can say, “Marijuana use will affect your memory, your coordination, your ability to  focus, and how you make decisions.  The best way to maintain control and make  decisions is to be clear-headed and not under the influence of marijuana.”

2. Alcohol kills a ton of people, but marijuana seems safer in  comparison

Anyone can die from using a substance, legal or not, depending on how and  when it’s used.  It’s true that a lot of people die each year from driving while  under the influence, alcohol poisoning and from smoking cigarettes, so you  should stress why you don’t want your child using alcohol or tobacco either.  Point out that while the headlines may not be reporting deaths that occur  directly after marijuana use, it doesn’t mean that it is a safer substance to  use.  Reiterate that each time someone smokes pot it affects their  decision-making skills and inhibitions are reduced, which in turn can lead to  poor choices that may be dangerous. The most important point to make here is  that all substances will affect your child in some negative way and no one  substance is necessarily safer than another.

3. Did you ever smoke marijuana?

This question may be one of the most dreaded questions to come from a child  to a parent.  The answer really depends on how you parent your child and what  your beliefs are around disclosure.  While some parents feel they simply cannot  or should not be truthful to owning up to a substance using past, for those that  do it’s important to follow a few guidelines.  First, keep your response short  and to the point without providing too many details.  Saying something like, “When I was in high school someone offered me pot and because I wasn’t strong  enough to say no I tried it”.  You can then give some details about how it made  you feel, emphasizing that in retrospect it impaired certain aspects of your  life, such as your ability to think clearly, lose interest in activities,  trouble with the law, etc.  Try not to get bogged down in your past, but focus  instead on what you learned and what you know now as an adult, as well your  concern for your child and his/her future. If your child says, “Well you used  it, so I should be able to too,” you can point out that just because you made a  mistake in the past doesn’t mean you want your child to do the same. Frame your  disclosure as you being honest in trying to help your child avoid the pitfalls  of substance use, not as your giving permission to begin using.

4. What do I do if I’m tempted?

Many parents feel that their kids won’t come to them if they’re tempted to  use marijuana because they act aloof and don’t disclose much information to them  in the first place.  Don’t let this normal teen behavior fool you into believing  that your child won’t want your help if they are confronted with the urge to use  marijuana or other substances.  Kids act unconcerned and are uncommunicative  because they’re uncertain how to talk to parents and peers, not because they  don’t value your advice.  Make it very clear to your kids that you are always  open to talking to them at a moment’s notice if they feel pressured or tempted  to say ‘yes’ to marijuana.  Let them know that if they are at a party or a  friend’s house and marijuana is present, they can call you to be picked up  regardless of the time or day. Also, while you may think your child knows how  you feel about using marijuana, make sure to express what your expectations are  around substance use while they are teen-agers. You can tell your child, “We  expect you not to use any substances because we know how harmful they can be to  your health. If something comes up and you need help, we’re here for you no  matter what.”

Related: How to teach your child the problem-solving  skills they’ll need for life.

In addition to stating that you will be there for them, boost your child’s  confidence by going over some responses when this happens.  Most teens (and  adults too) rarely have the capacity to refuse a request when someone asks  something of us, so we often find ourselves saying ‘yes’, when we really are  scared to say ‘no’. Having a snappy comeback ready can do wonders for a child’s  self-esteem and make them more confident when they need to say ‘no’.  Some  examples:

“Nah, I’m trying to quit” (then changing the subject).

“My parents can smell that stuff a mile away. They’d kill me, dude.”

“I’ve got so much to do tomorrow (e.g., sports event, studying, musical  show).  Can’t do it.”

Like so many topics that involve danger, having a one-time conversation with  your child simply won’t cut it.  This is a conversation you should be having  starting in your child’s pre-teen years and extending all throughout high school  and even college.  Letting your child know that you are with them every step of  the way and continuing this conversation at each stage of their development will  go a long way in keeping your child substance free.

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