Parents today will raise their children as the first generation of Americans to live with legal access to marijuana. This exciting moment in history must not distract from the continued responsibility parents have to teach their children the truth about cannabis.
Some people feel that it’s easier just to keep their use separate from their children, in order to avoid dealing with the subject until the children are older. Others are quite open and honest about it, hoping to “normalize” their use, and teach responsible use by example — like people who would have a drink of alcohol in front of their children. Regardless of which path you take in this matter, it’s important to be involved in your kids’ lives and to keep the lines of communication open with them.
Don’t lie. Spreading lies or mistruths about anything with your children will only teach them that they can’t trust you. If you don’t think they’re old enough to understand certain information, either couch it in terms they can grasp, or wait until they’re ready.
Parents and other adults are role models to their children. If you are open about your use, be conscious of the values, ethics and behavior you are teaching your children. Show them what responsible use means. Don’t use cannabis as an excuse for not upholding your personal responsibilities or for acting carelessly. One thing that must be taught to your children is that this activity is currently illegal and the social and legal consequences can be quite severe for the entire family. They need to know that cannabis choice is a private, family matter that should not be discussed outside the home, as some people don’t like it and want to punish people who use it, just like some people hate others for being of a different race. It’s not right, but there are people who are intolerant and mean. Tell them that you think the laws against cannabis are wrong, and it should be legally controlled, like alcohol. If they see you actively working to reform the laws, they will learn that cannabis laws need to be fixed, and its consumers should be held to the same social and legal standards as alcohol or tobacco users.
When will they be old enough?
The safest thing to tell them is to wait until the legal age of adulthood, which may be 18 or 21 depending on the State you live in. At that age they are responsible for their own choices and behavior. Of course, you will still be there for them, but at least you will not be held legally liable for their behavior. They should know the legal consequences before they act. They have to be able to show appropriate maturity and responsibility before they can reasonably use it, so if they ever find themselves using cannabis as an excuse to act irresponsibly, that means they’re not ready for it yet.
As a starting point, listen to your child.
Begin by asking your child what s/he has heard about marijuana. This will initiate discussion as well as opportunities to establish common ground between you and your child. Listen to what your child has to say; children have useful things to tell us.
Explain that many adult activities are inappropriate for children.
Explain to your child that there are many adult activities that are unsuitable for children. Cite examples (e.g., driving a car, entering contracts, getting married, sex, drinking, etc.) Explain that using marijuana is one of these “adults-only” activities, and should be avoided until they are old enough to make responsible, adult decisions.
Emphasize that marijuana is not a toy.
Explain that marijuana is a drug, like alcohol or cigarettes, with powerful effects. As such, it is for adults only and should be treated with respect. Point out that the smoke irritates the bronchial tubes. Explain that the effects of all drugs can interfere with the physical and hormonal changes young people experience as they enter adolescence. If they are already having some problems, marijuana is not going to help them and may make their problems worse. It is wrong to use marijuana before or while at school, because it can interfere with their ability to concentrate. And if they enjoy it too much, pot can become an expensive and time-consuming habit. Emphasize that smoking marijuana can lead to problems at school, at home, or with the police — problems they need to avoid for their own sake.
Emphasize that cannabis is not like other illegal drugs.
Cannabis is non-toxic and addiction is very, very rare if it occurs at all. It has little or no negative health effects except for the irritation from its smoke. That is not true of other drugs, so emphasize that pills and powders are inherently different than plants. That is the simplest line to draw. If you think your child is at risk or already involved with hard drugs, that is a different discussion altogether. But, they need to know that all “drugs” are not the same — they have different effects and risks.
Be honest and don’t overplay your hand.
Be factual when explaining to your child why they should avoid marijuana. Your first priority should be to maintain their trust. Demonizing marijuana is not likely to convince your child to abstain from using it, but it may damage your credibility in their eyes. Exaggerating its effects only glamorizes pot in the eyes of a rebellious youth. Explain to your children how much you care about their health and safety, and that using marijuana jeopardizes both. Tell them that smoking marijuana is very much against the law, and that using it could lead to serious legal problems. Tell them you think the law is wrong, that there should be an age limit for personal use of cannabis and that, as a business, it should be taxed and regulated like beer or wine.
Young people will ultimately make their own decisions about whether or not to use marijuana; this choice is a normal part of becoming an adult. They are subjected to prejudice and misinformation along the way, but they also talk to each other and see what’s going on around them with marijuana and other drugs. Try to delay their initial use of cannabis as a matter of caution, and to encourage moderation should they adopt cannabis as part of their adult lifestyle.
What about underage use?
Point out to them that while cannabis is a physically safer alternative to tobacco or alcohol, the legal penalties against it are quite severe. They could lose the privilege of joining in extracurricular activities, lose their driver’s license or educational benefits, have more difficulties getting into the college of their choice, and get a criminal record. Discretion is essential, and if they ever have a problem, they should come to you with it and not be afraid that you will reject them or do them harm. Encourage them to stay out of trouble, but if trouble occurs, you are there to help them through when they really need you.
Make a distinction between responsible use and being a “pothead.”
People smoke cannabis in different use patterns, sometimes on an occasional basis, perhaps monthly or on weekends. People can even smoke cannabis on a daily basis and still be responsible users. The difference is that responsible users integrate their cannabis use with their other activities as a way to relax or enhance their lives. A pothead’s life revolves around their use of marijuana use and they don’t get much else done. Those are the people who, a few years down the road, think about all the time they’ve wasted and try to blame it on a plant that they smoked.
Get to the bottom line.
You don’t want them using cannabis, keeping it around, or getting into any trouble with it. Remember: more powerful than any lecture is your active participation, interest, and supervision in your child’s life.
Open communication is the key here. You want your children to trust you and feel that they can come to you in any drug-related situation.
While at some point in the future you might find yourself sparking one up with your adult kid, your job as the parent of a young child or teen is to teach them how to navigate this issue safely, legally, and responsibly.