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Talking to kids about pot in the era of legalization

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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. 

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Comments
  • comment avatar Eric February 22, 2013

    How to talk with Kids about Pot .
    Easy treat the subject the same as drinking . It’s no different just a different substance. These subjsects need to be seen in the household as open and not taboo . Dont build up a mystic wall about Pot, don’t treat it any different than drinking and the communication lines will reamin open . If we cling to old views about Pot like the government sponsored propaganda movies of the fifties and sixties we limit our ability to have rational conversations about Pot and or Drinking .
    Remember it’s legal in small amounts for persons 21 and older. This changes nothing for minors , they are still not able to legaly posses and or consume .Just like drinking 21 and older . Dont go overboard dont slam it as if it’s different and kids will understand and most important listen to what you have to say on the subject. They may or may not agree but they will listen and that is half the battle right there with teenagers . Is it not ?

  • comment avatar Devin February 22, 2013

    The National Institute on Drug abuse seems to have it’s own agenda to keep prohibition going so they are funded. Take ten minutes reading the site and this become clear immediately.

    Why would you only show one side to the Cannabis discussion?

    When your kids try it anyway and learn it’s not what you told them it would be YOU make it a GATEWAY DRUG!

    However please note, it will be a gateway NOT in the way you think. Your kids will learn you told them a half truth and want to go out to the world and find what other half truths you told them…

    The “experts” you are referring to are long time prohibitionists. They love the funding that come there way by scared folks like yourself.

    Do your kids a favor and research and discuss both sides. Your kids will thank and respect you for it.

    • comment avatar kay February 26, 2013

      Couldn’t agree more. That site spits out as many negative things as possible. Cannabis won’t be a big deal if parents don’t make t a big deal. Just follow the laws set by the government and your kids will be fine. And if you think legalization is wrong then maybe you should reassess your beliefs, by looking at current research.

  • comment avatar bob April 10, 2013

    No self respecting parent should rely on any information about marijuana from NIDA. They have lost any measure of credibility from their reprehensible behavior in refusing to approve federal studies of medical marijuana.

    NIDA refuses to allow any federal research that might prove medical efficacy of marijuana, while having no restrictions on studies that might show harms associated with marijuana.

    Our teens will soon recognize we are lying if presented NIDA’s slanted and biased literature. Please find a better source when talking to your teen about marijuana.

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