Although there are a multitude of proven reasons why marijuana is detrimental both mentally and physically, this proves to be tricky when you’re trying to explain the dangers to kids - especially if you live in a state where weed’s legal for recreational use.
Kids may not understand why state laws have ruled that marijuana is acceptable for adults over age 21, but that it‘s still a damaging drug. "We already have the messaging problem," said Sue Scheff, author of Wit’s End: Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen." So we need to come up with a new way to discuss it...because the kids are tuning us out."
It’s All in the Delivery
Now for the good news: You can still share most of the same information about marijuana with your teens that you want to share. It’s simply a matter of the delivery, not the message.
Here are six ways to talk to your kids about marijuana in pot-legal states:
- Avoid harping on the health risks: Most teenagers already know marijuana use can have long-term effects on memory and problem-solving skills. They’re also not interested in having you attempt to get them to stop smoking through scare tactics. That doesn’t mean you should present marijuana as a harmless substance, but rather that there are other, more effective ways of trying to convey your point.
- Educate yourself: Learn about the effects of marijuana, the potential risks and why it’s especially hazardous for children. Shielding your kids from marijuana or what it does simply isn’t realistic, so try to present yourself to them as a resource to get reliable information from.
- Be honest: Talk with your kids about your own personal experiences using marijuana. If you’ve never smoked before, explain why you made that choice. In these situations, putting yourself on equal footing rather than towering over as an authority figure will be more helpful in getting your message across. "I told my children I did not want to see them learn as I did, and that I hoped they could learn from my mistake," said Terry Greenwald, a father with grown children in Alaska. Greenwald said his approach worked because his daughter has never tried marijuana, while his son tried it once and didn’t like it.
- Explain the legal risks: Just because you live in a legal marijuana state doesn’t mean you can smoke it anytime and anywhere. Similar to alcohol-related laws, it’s illegal to drive a car while under the influence of pot. If they’re pulled over by a cop and the officer smells marijuana, it could potentially lead to time behind bars and a felony that ends up on their permanent record.
- Let them know what they might lose: Kids are generally focused on the present moment and don’t think long-term. Instead of hammering data on the health risks of long-term marijuana use, let them know the immediate consequences they may face. "It's taking kids along the track of, 'Well, you're putting in jeopardy your potential to do well in school or to graduate or to be successful once you get your driver's license because marijuana does impair you if you're going to use it and drive,” said pediatrician Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director for Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment. “And it does impair you if you're trying to study or you're trying to do well in school or you're trying to get a good job."
- Make yourself available: Let your child know that you’re there at any time to address the marijuana concerns or questions they may have. Even if they’re not ready to open up at that moment, leaving the door open may enable to feel them comfortable doing so in the future.
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