Talking to kids about pot in the era of legalization
Now that voters in Colorado have voted to legalize small (relatively) amounts of marijuana for general use, how the heck do you talk about the issue with your kids?
Parents (including yours truly) occasionally have a glass of beer or wine in front of their children, but does this mean that at some point parents will be busting out pipes and bongs too in front of minors? That’s kind of a scary thought.
We are in new terrain, people. And it’s at times like these we hit up the experts for suggestions.
Boulder psychologist and writer Jan Hittelman recently responded to a parent question at EdNews Parent. A mom asked, “My daughter is heading to high school next year and I know some of her friends have experimented with marijuana. With dispensaries all over the place and the recent voter approval to legalize marijuana here, how can I talk honestly to my daughter about the dangers of drug use and get her to take me seriously?”
Hittelman, who routinely dishes his excellent advice to parents in the Boulder Valley School District, offered some great advice to all of us attempting to raise well-rounded, healthy, happy kids in Colorado. Here it is:
- Have frequent, ongoing discussions and encourage a respectful exchange of ideas. Try to have your child do most of the talking, be respectful and minimize lecturing. A key discussion point being: What are the benefits of substance use, and what other ways can you achieve that without use?
- Remind your children that even with the new law, you must be over 21 to drink alcohol or consume marijuana in Colorado. More importantly, discuss the reasons behind these restrictions, which include: proven negative effects on young brain development, the increased risk of addiction when substance use begins at an early age, and that the areas of the brain that impact judgment and impulse control are not fully developed until you are in your 20s.
- Point out that as parents you are legally responsible for their misbehavior until the age of 18.
- Finally, if you did experiment with drugs and/or alcohol when you were younger, it’s OK to be honest but it’s critical to include a lesson (e.g. I realize now how it negatively affected me and wish I had a discussion like this with my parents at the time).
Also, he says whether it is marijuana and/or alcohol, discuss how some youth who experiment continue to meet their responsibilities, but many do not (and your child likely knows of kids like these). Because it is impossible to predict who will develop major problems, he suggests telling your child it’s best to avoid it altogether.
Finally, he says it’s key to reinforce honesty. Consider a rule that if your child tells you that they used a substance, the consequences will be less harsh than if they lie about it and/or you find out on your own. Read his complete post here.
At EdNews Parent we’ve also had a few questions from parents who have actually found some marijuana in their child’s backpack. Another EdNews Parent expert suggested questions to ask to get more information so you can determine next steps:
▪ How old is your child?
▪ How much marijuana did you find in his/her backpack (ex. a bag of marijuana vs. a single joint)?
▪ Has there been any significant change in his/her behavior or patterns recently?
These questions can direct the conversation that you have with your child and can help you sort out if s/he needs drug education or treatment for a budding problem. In either case, a conversation should take place so that your son or daughter is clear about your rules and expectations about drug use. This expert also suggested checking out the National Institute on Drug Abuse for more facts about marijuana and tips on talking to kids.
Experts agree it’s important to understand what your child is being exposed to. They say, “Don’t panic” if you find drugs or your child admits to having tried something. (Now that’s easier said than done.) And, they remind us to really listen to our kids and not do all the talking and preaching.
If you’re interested in diving deeper into this issue, check out this compelling piece of investigative journalism from EdNews Colorado (the mother ship of EdNews Parent) and its nonprofit partners on the link between the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Colorado and drug use in schools.
And, if you’re curious about drug offenses at your child’s school, plug in the name of the school in this cool interactive database.
Happy searching, and listening. And if you’ve got any other tips, please share ‘em.
EdNews Parent editor Julie Poppen is a former daily newspaper journalist who has covered a multitude of school issues in Fort Collins, Boulder and Denver. She is also the mother of a fifth grader in Boulder Valley. Sign up for the EdNews Parent newsletter by clicking here.