Parent Advice: How to Talk to Your Teen About Cannabis

Mother and daughter talking about cannabis

Dear parents, it’s about time to break the misconception instilled in our brains by the mainstream media.

Your influence on your teenager supersedes that of social media, friends, teachers, and others! For your kids, you’re the torchbearer. You’re the one they look up to and who they model their behavior after. Never forget that!

When kids reach teenagehood, for most parents, conversations start to become unpleasant, to say the least. Topics such as sex, drugs, and alcohol abuse pop up and become necessary talking points.

Now, because the nature of these types of conversations is touchy, many parents simply decide not to have them.

Recently, with the legalization of recreational and medicinal cannabis use across the world, the conversation about weed became even more intricate and strenuous for parents. How do you explain that something is bad when it’s being globally accepted? What do you do if your teenager plays the “it’s legal” card on you?

We’ll address these FAQs soon, but before we do that, let’s try to understand why the most commonly used tactic thus far hasn’t been as effective at preventing adolescent drug use, as we hoped it would.

Scare Tactics

Ever since the war on drugs began in the 1970s, we were told that the best way to prevent drug abuse is to use scare tactics. We were supposed to simply teach our kids to say no to drugs, without further broadening the conversation and backing up our narrative with scientific evidence.

However, times are changing. We know today that programs such as D.A.R.E (Drug Abuse Resistance Program) have failed miserably. This approach fails to take into account human psychology and, to a degree, reality itself.

People are inherently curious beings. Especially young people. Therefore, telling a young person not to do something will most likely lead to them giving it a go.

In the early 2010s, scientists conducted a meta-analysis that clearly showed that teens who received no intervention and those who enrolled in the D.A.R.E program were equally likely to end up using drugs.

That’s why nowadays we know that using reality-based education is by far the best approach. Staying rigid, negative, closed-minded, and dismissive, when discussing cannabis with your teen, is most probably a recipe for disaster. It’s simply ineffective.

That being said, it’s important to mention that being able to converse differently and openly with your kids is a skill that you, as a parent, will need to work on. If you don’t get it right the first two or three times, don’t get discouraged.

Remember that it’s your child’s well-being you are dealing with. Keep honing your conversation skills.

Evidence Is Key

When it comes to the cannabis dialogue, we can’t stress enough the importance of education. Basically, it comes down to this. If you want your teenager to make informed decisions, you must be informed yourself.

For as long as cannabis has been a hot topic, countless myths have been made up and believed about its positive and negative effects on human beings. As scientists devoted more attention to the matter, we started to learn that some claims about cannabis use can be made with certainty.

Above all, chronic cannabis abuse by teenagers leaves lasting, irreversible damage to their still-developing brains. That reason alone should govern you to leave your insecurities behind, educate yourself on cannabis, and start conversing with your kids about it as early as possible.

However, instead of instilling fear into their young hearts, approach them with a curious and objective mindset and back your claims with reality-based evidence. Here are some facts that can help you expand your knowledge on premature cannabis use:

  1. Smoking cannabis, like smoking cigarettes, is bad for your health. Especially if someone starts young. Some evidence suggests that extensive use of cannabis can lead to bronchitis, chronic cough, as well as a plethora of other respiratory conditions. 
  2. Vulnerable individuals can experience psychotic symptoms and conditions such as schizophrenia, but depression and anxiety as well. 
  3. Because the human brain doesn’t stop developing until the age of 25, frequent cannabis use in adolescence can hinder the development of crucial areas of the brain related to emotional regulation, planning, memory, etc. Moreover, disruption of some of these cognitive abilities cannot be reversed. 

Teenagers are the age group most likely to engage in hazardous behaviors such as driving under the influence, unprotected sex, substance abuse, etc. Be that as it may, adding frequent cannabis consumption to this equation makes the situation even worse.

An inclination towards risky behavior intensifies because of cannabis’ interference with the maturation of the prefrontal cortex. This particular region of the brain is crucial for regulating impulses, planning, and judgment. That means that an already prominent inclination towards risky behavior gets exacerbated by the hindered development of one of the most important regions of a teenager’s brain.

The Art of Active Listening

In psychotherapy, a huge accent is put on something we call active listening.

This particular skill takes a bit of practice to master, but the impact it leaves on communication is invaluable.

Among other things, active listening calls for positivity, reflectiveness, open-ended questions and compassion in communication.

  1. Positivity – No matter what is being said at the given moment, we should strive to focus on the positives, and trust us, there’s always something positive to be learned from every interaction. For example, just the fact that your kid has opened up to you is a huge positive! That’s why you should make sure to include positive affirmation in your responses. This alone will help lower the guard your teenager might be keeping, and make him or her feel supported.
  2. Reflectiveness is a safe way to your teenager’s heart. By reflecting, even briefly, on what they’re saying, they will know that you’re there with them in the given moment, listening to what they have to say, trying to understand, not to judge or preach. This is by far the best thing to do if you want your teenager to get an impression that you’re genuinely trying to understand what they’re feeling and going through.
  3. Open-ended questions are a must! If your teenager gets to give only yes or no answers to your questions, you won’t gain much insight into their true feelings and opinions. Try to avoid creating an environment in which your kid will feel interrogated. Asking open-ended questions is a brilliant way to achieve that. Not only will you stimulate further discussion, but you’ll also get a chance to learn more about what’s going on in your teenager’s life.
  4. Compassion is an essential constituent of healthy relationships. Regardless of our age, we all feel a strong need to be loved and understood. Therefore, showing compassion while conversing with someone, makes the other side feel safe, comfortable, and more willing to open up. Whatever your teenager is going through, you must be able to embrace their situation and feelings with open arms. Being judgmental can only do harm. 

Above all things, try to vacate your position of authority! As parents, we have an inherent tendency to approach our kids with an “I know what’s best for you” attitude. That overprotectiveness can easily transform itself into conversation-ending invasiveness.

Give your teenagers space and freedom to express themselves and allow them to build a sense of integrity by not suffocating them with your authority.

Addressing the FAQs

It’s impossible for us to provide answers to all types of questions and situations you could end up dealing with when discussing marijuana use with your teenager.

Therefore, we’ve decided to go over the most common ones and at least show you which direction to follow with your approach when your kid brings up cannabis.

No Response

More often than not, because of the discomfort they’re feeling, teenagers can simply refuse to answer your questions regarding marijuana.

Instead of putting yourself first and teaching them a lesson about how rude they’re being, try to remain patient and understand that the conversation is equally uncomfortable for them as it is for you.

One great way to cross this communication gap is to start asking questions not directly related to your teenager while staying on topic. For example, you could inquire about what their friends and classmates think of cannabis or if someone within their group smokes pot regularly.

It’s going to be easier for your teenager to open up about others and not themselves. Seemingly redirecting the conversation can help put your kid in the mood for talking about cannabis.

It’s Legal, So What?

In today’s society, the “it’s legal” argument is becoming omnipresent, and understandably so.

If your kid plays this card on you, make sure to applaud him or her for expressing critical thinking. After all, it’s a bit confusing for everybody, isn’t it? If something is dangerous to consume, why did we make it legal?

Again, instead of getting frustrated by the complexity of the question (and it is a complex question), remind your teenager that there’s a myriad of unhealthy and dangerous things that have been legal for a long time. Like alcohol, cigarettes, and even some medications.

Then, you can go over all the potential hazards of consuming them. DUIs, liver cirrhosis, cancer, addiction, etc.

Make sure to point out the importance of personal responsibility. All these substances are available for legal consumption only at a certain age. It’s up to us, individually, to decide whether we’re going to consume and face the following consequences.

Just because something is legal, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to pay a (high) price and be held accountable if things go sideways.

Occasional User

What happens when your teenager tells you that he or she is using cannabis only once in a while and that you shouldn’t be worried?

Well, first and foremost, you thank your kid for being honest with you and express your gratitude. After that, you could also compliment them for deciding not to use marijuana on a regular basis.

This type of affirmation will take a huge burden off of your teenager’s shoulders and make him or her more willing to discuss matters further.

A great thing to do, in this type of situation, is asking your kid about why he or she decided not to use marijuana regularly. It could open up a great discussion about all the good things that are going on in your kid’s life and how frequent cannabis use would interfere with them.

One Last Thing…

Adults often forget that cannabis can be appealing to teenagers for many different reasons.

If we discover that our kids are smoking marijuana, our immediate conclusion is that they have fallen under the influence of their peer group made up of no good layabouts. But things are far less simplistic than that.

Our need to fit in and be accepted is a powerful governing force behind our seemingly bad decisions. Therefore, we will get caught up doing things that aren’t necessarily good for us, but in the long run, our sense of belonging will grow.

Just because we’re adults, we’re not the only ones entitled to feeling out of place, stressed out, confused, under pressure, etc. Adolescence is a strangely confusing time in our lives. We’re learning how to detach ourselves from our parents, build new relationships, and to a degree, reinvent our personalities and take on new roles in our lives.

Because teenagers feel pressure and stress the same way that you do, marijuana can become their main coping mechanism. A means to deal with the stressful times they’re going through.

Now, we’re by no means proposing that developing a marijuana habit as a coping mechanism is a good and healthy thing to do. We’re saying that it’s your responsibility to understand your child’s adverse feelings and help them discover new meaningful and healthy ways to cope with stress and pressure.

It’s your responsibility to introduce music, books, sports, art, and other beneficial forms of expression to your child, through which they will learn to deal with negative emotions in a way that will help them grow as human beings.

Also, try to get the conversation going as early as possible and be extremely patient. Because, when it comes to conversation, patience is the greatest virtue.

About the author
Mirko Popovic

A clinical psychologist in love with the written word. Curious about the world in general, and cannabis in particular. An avid guitarist, reader, and (board) gamer.

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