A Parents’ Guide For Understanding Teens And Marijuana
As more states across the U.S. are legalizing marijuana – for medical and/or recreational purposes – and as more teens are turning to pot in favor of cigarettes, the landscape has changed for parents who are trying to discourage their teenage children from smoking or eating the herbal drug.
So, since many states are legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana, does that mean the substance is harmless, even for teenagers? Not exactly.
If you’re trying to keep your child from using marijuana, whether for behavioral purposes or because it might lead to experimentation with other substances, it’s certainly a different ballgame today than when you were their age. National sentiment has changed, laws have changed and behaviors related to teen drug use have changed.
With all of these factors in mind, parents don’t have it easy when it comes to their teens and marijuana use, either as a proactive measure or to see if there’s already a problem afoot. It’s a difficult, sometimes uncomfortable subject, but if approached and conducted properly, the whole family should be in a more stable place.
This is why we’ve created a guide for you, the parent, to talk to your teenage son or daughter about marijuana use. You may find many of the methods below to be helpful even with talking to your teens about other subjects they may not like talking about, such as schoolwork, relationships, etc. Use this guide to become more informed on the subject of teen marijuana use and to learn how to better facilitate discussions with your loved one.
Facts About Teen Marijuana Use
Before getting into how you should talk with your teenager about marijuana, we should delve into a few facts about the reality of the drug. While studies are constantly released on the subject and they sometimes contradict each other, what we can conclude is that marijuana isn’t as harmful as it was widely considered just a few decades ago.
Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean that marijuana is completely benign for teens to use, or even that’s it’s legal to use. States that have legalized the drug recreationally still don’t let you purchase it until the age of 21, just like alcohol. Some teens are eligible to use it for medicinal purposes, if approved by the state, but for the most part, it remains illegal for teens to possess or consume.
The side effects of marijuana are different for all people, but some common short-term symptoms of the substance are:
- Memory loss and decreased retention
- Tiredness and lethargy
- Trouble judging distances
- Loss of motor coordination
- Irritated lungs, including coughing or wheezing
- Increased heart rate
- Heightened anxiety
- Trouble finishing thoughts or solving problems
- Poor decision making
- Unsafe sexual behaviors
The effects of marijuana on teens depends on the potency of the drug, which can vary drastically from strain to strain, so it’s never certain how a single use of the drug is going to affect a teen. In most cases, teens will be interacting with marijuana that is unregulated, meaning there’s a chance it will be laced with another harmful substance or simply a stronger strain than what would be found in licensed dispensaries. Stronger strains of marijuana can increase the severity of some of the symptoms listed above.
Another factor to keep in mind is that, according to almost all studies, everyone’s brain is still developing until they reach the age of about 25. Extended substance use can disrupt the normal development of the brain. Marijuana is not the only substance implicated in this; alcohol, caffeine and, of course, harder substances are all capable of slowing one’s cognitive development.
Few researchers would agree that individuals can develop a chemical addiction to marijuana, although many observational studies have concluded that people can became psychologically or emotionally dependent on the substance.
So, you may hear advocates say that teen marijuana addiction is not an issue, but that’s not entirely true. If one has become a daily user of marijuana, it’s not an easy task to stop using it abruptly. Cutting it out of one’s daily routine can be just as difficult as dropping other elements of that routine, especially ones that have been in effect for years. This is why most drug rehabilitation centers across the country offer some form of “marijuana treatment” in order to break users’ dependence on the substance.
Long term marijuana use by teens has side effects including:
- Respiratory problems (such as chronic cough or bronchitis)
- Difficulties with physical activity
- Sleeping issues
- Decreased motivation or interest
- A slight drop in IQ
- Memory recall difficulties
- Mental health issues (such as depression, anxiety and psychosis), especially when not under the influence
- Increased risk of side effects from medication for mental health conditions
Driving Under The Influence Of Marijuana
Many different activities can impair one’s driving, such as being under the influence of alcohol or constantly looking at a smartphone. Using marijuana prior to or during driving is certainly one of those dangerous factors, as well. Marijuana usually slows down the user’s perception of depth, time, motion and sounds. It’s also impairs coordination and concentration.
It’s not uncommon for people who have used marijuana and driven a vehicle to have actually traveled below the speed limit, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they were driving safely. Since marijuana impairs reaction time, those under the influence have a harder time stopping ahead of or swerving around unforeseen obstacles in the road.
A good case study is to look at Colorado, one of the two states to first legalize recreational marijuana. In the first year since pot became available at retail stores in the state, 94 people died in crashes where at least one driver tested positive for marijuana. That was more than the 71 such deaths in the year prior.
In 2009, about 10 percent of all traffic fatalities in Colorado involved a driver who had marijuana in his or her system. That number rose to 19 percent in the first year of pot being available recreationally. In all fairness, though, the total number of traffic fatalities continued to remain significantly lower than the state’s high of 743 in 2002.
This means that recreational pot hasn’t caused a drastic uptick in the number of traffic deaths in Colorado. Some would argue that more of the population is using marijuana since it’s legal in the state, and this would explain the increase in percentage of its role in fatal accidents. Also, the way law enforcement and medical examiners test for marijuana means traces of the drug can be discovered days or even a couple of weeks after the driver last consumed it, so it’s difficult to tell how many of the drivers were actively high when they got into a crash.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue that using pot and then getting into the driver’s seat makes anyone a better driver. It simply appears to be one of the many inhibitors of fully attentive driving.
In Colorado, recreational and medical marijuana users can be penalized alike for being found under the influence or having an open container of the drug (or a container with a broken seal). Anyone suspected to be under the influence of marijuana may be asked to take a blood test. Drivers with five or more nanograms of active tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the most potent chemical in marijuana) can be prosecuted for driving under the influence (DUI) in Colorado. If your state allows medical and/or recreational marijuana, you can see driving regulations by visiting your state’s department of transportation, which you can find with this directory.
Common Names For Marijuana
If you have a teen whom you suspect may be using marijuana, you will want to be aware of several common names for marijuana that he or she may be using when talking to friends. The following terms should throw up a red flag, depending on the context in which they’re used. The terms below have to do with slang for marijuana itself, as well as paraphernalia and accessories that could be involved in the consumption of marijuana:
Other Teenage Marijuana Use Statistics
Here are a few other teenage marijuana use statistics that will give you an idea of the current climate surrounding the drug and what your children face when they enter their adolescent years:
- Roughly 40 percent of teen marijuana smokers say they began before the age of 15.
- 78 percent of teens report having close friends who use marijuana.
- One in four 10th-graders and one in three 12th-graders have used marijuana over the last year, at least according to a 2011 survey.
- From 2005 to 2013, the percentage of 12th-graders who saw becoming a regular marijuana user as a great risk fell from 58 percent to 40 percent.
- A 30-plus-year study of more than 1,000 participants found that those who used pot regularly as teens and young adults permanently lost an average of 6 points off their IQ scores.
- One out of 11 adults who try marijuana will become dependent or addicted.
- One out of six teens who try pot will become daily or near-daily users.
Talking With Your Teen About Marijuana Use
Now that you better understand the modern landscape surrounding marijuana, let’s get into the many ways you can educate and dissuade your teenaged child from using it. The following 10 items are ongoing strategies you can use as you discuss the topic of marijuana with your teen.
Having A Two-way Conversation
For starters, each time you talk about cannabis with your child needs to be a back-and-forth conversation. Sitting them down to interrogate and/or lecture them won’t be an effective method in the long run. If anything, you want your child to do the brunt of the talking, while holding your comments or advice until they’re finishing speaking on a certain topic.
When having such a conversation, make sure it’s not while one of you is on the go and that you both have enough time set aside for it. Body language is crucial in this process, too. You want to make sure you mirror their posture, such as sitting when they’re sitting, or standing when they’re standing. Sitting with crossed arms while they’re speaking as well as pointing fingers when talking (as seen in the photo above) are two of the types of gestures you’re going to want to avoid if you truly want the teen to open up.
An Ongoing, Routine Process
It’s important to have this type of conversation more than once as your child progresses from middle school to high school and beyond. At the very least, you should check in yearly on your teen’s experiences with marijuana (and other substances).
If you’ve found that they have already tried cannabis or you determine their risk of becoming a user is high, then you should have these conversations more frequently. As previously mentioned, choosing the right time and setting to have these conversations each time is also crucial in this ongoing process. Make it into a routine, and your teen will soon understand what to expect each time you sit down to talk.
Keeping An Open-Minded, Positive Outlook
You want your child to share their experiences and observations about marijuana in as much detail as they’re comfortable with, so it’s best to approach these conversations with an open-minded and constructive attitude. If the teen is struggling with something related to the topic, how can you offer a solution?
A key to this process is maintaining active listening. You have to listen carefully to everything your teen is saying, while also asking open-ended questions and even offering empathy. Approach the conversation as a problem solver (rather than judge, jury and executioner), helping to either keep them away from the drug or figure out how to stop using.
If your teen has tried pot, ask them how it made them feel and what setbacks or side effects they may have noticed. Ask them what prompted them to try the drug in the first place. Let the child respond to these questions at length, and save any disagreements and directions until they are finished.
If you’re quick to judge and reprimand your child, you’ll shut down the conversation too early. While you may have to draw up some form of punishment based on what you hear, try to save these measures until the end or after the conversation. You want to hear their side of the story as fully as possible. It doesn’t hurt to thank them for being honest with you, even if what they share is startling at first.
Their Observations Of Marijuana Use
How are kids using, or at least discussing, marijuana at school? How does it come up around friends, and do any friends frequently use it? How do others appear to be affected while under the influence of marijuana?
Asking those questions is important to understanding how cannabis is influencing your teen specifically, and how closely it’s hitting to home. If your child doesn’t have many experiences using or being around marijuana, ask them what they’ve heard about it from friends, classmates, teachers, popular culture and the media.
Going beyond the scope of your teen’s personal marijuana experiences will help you both understand the environmental factors surrounding the child. From there, you will have more ideas on what to research and how to offer more broad-ranging and concrete solutions in future discussions with your child.
Discussing Drug Use With Your Teen’s Friends
Speaking of friends, you’re probably well aware that the people your teen associates with are likely going to be the biggest influence on whether your teen abstains from or starts using pot. This is why you’ll want to listen carefully when your teen talks about their friends’ experiences with marijuana.
If you deem your teen’s friends are a negative influence, you have to be tactful about steering them toward a different group of friends. It almost always backfires when you sharply criticize a particular friend or group of friends. Teenagers are often very loyal to and defensive of their companions, so your conversation could get off topic if you choose to vilify your child’s friends.
Instead, you’ll want to delicately ask your teen open-ended questions like, “What do you value about your friends?” and, “How do you feel when they use drugs around you?” You can point out behaviors that you don’t like, while also reiterating your expectations of your child. Lastly, you can set rules to mitigate how much time your teen spends with a questionable group of friends, such as not letting them go out on a weekend, etc.
Use Research In Your Discussions
While much of the “Reefer Madness”-era fears have been debunked, marijuana is still far from a harmless substance, as you read earlier. Before you discuss marijuana with your teen, do some research about the drug that you can include as part of your conversation and education on the topic.
To take this even further, ask your teen to do their own research prior to the conversation you’ll have scheduled. This way, you can discuss their findings and be more aware of the risks and even myths surrounding cannabis use. Even if you have a young teen who hasn’t been exposed to marijuana much yet, having one of these conversations and incorporating well-researched talking points means that both of you will be better informed about your ensuing plans of action.
Honesty About Your Past Usage
If you’re having several of these conversations with your teen, it’s almost inevitable that questions will come up about your past experiences with marijuana. It’s best to be honest in these situations, so that your teen will know that you’ve gone through what they’re probably going through now. This will also help them be more honest and open down the road.
If you did use marijuana as a teen or young adult, it’s best to vaguely describe the circumstances and rationale behind your usage. However, it’s important to also emphasize the negative effects the drug had at the time as well as what inspired you to abstain. Just because you used marijuana in the past doesn’t give your teen permission to do so now, but you can frame the conversation in a way that you’re trying to help them not make the mistakes you did.
Keeping Your Current Usage In Check
If you currently use cannabis, especially in front of your kids, it’s going to be infinitely harder to dissuade your teen from using it as they get older. Once your child approaches adolescence, you’re going to want to evaluate your use of marijuana, and even alcohol or other substances.
Coming home from a stressful day of work and pouring a drink or smoking a joint sends the wrong message to a child who needs to learn positive coping mechanisms to difficult situations. It doesn’t matter if it’s legal for you and illegal for them. They’re eventually going to ask why they can’t partake in the same substances you regularly use.
Therefore, you’re going to want to try to eliminate or significantly cut back on your substance use during your children’s impressionable adolescent years. You’ll be a positive role model and a more credible voice of authority in your discussions with them about marijuana.
Discuss How To Say No
While having conversations about marijuana, work with your teens on ways they can say no to friends or peers who are using cannabis in the vicinity. You may have to role play and figure out which phrases or rationale you teen is comfortable with saying in turning down somebody who is offering them pot.
- “I’m not into that.”
- “No, thanks. I have a big game (or test, meeting, event, etc.) tomorrow.”
- “I’m good. Not my style.”
- “No, thanks. I’m trying to quit.”
You may have some insight on what phrases do and don’t work when refusing to partake in marijuana usage. Sometimes, teens (and even adults) end up partaking because they don’t really have a good way of saying no. Brainstorming with your teen and practicing turning somebody down will give them the right tool and confidence when the time comes.
Turning To Other Activities
Help your teen find dedicated activities that will help keep the temptation of marijuana and other substances at bay. Encourage them to participate in sports, church, or a school band or club to be in a more positive environment, so that they’re not just sitting idly by after school. This might also help your teen find a healthier, more constructive group of friends, especially if you’re wary of the ones your child currently has.
A Better Foundation
Sometimes it’s out of parents’ hands, but there are many occasions where a parent played all the difference between a sober teen and one who abused substances daily. Checking in regularly on your teens’ concerns, experiences and observations about marijuana will help them assess their own feelings and opinions about the drug.
You don’t need to approach your teen with scare tactics. Just lending them an empathetic ear and offering constructive solutions can make all the difference. You still want to have clear expectations, and you may need to redirect or punish at times, but you don’t have to approach every conversation with a gavel looking for what kind of sentence you can draw up. These are crucial years for your child, so setting aside some time to have these discussions regularly will play a big role in the person they will become 10, 20, 30 years down the road.
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