As states across the nation continue to (slowly) legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, many parents are finding themselves unsure of how to talk to their children about the plant.
What was once a "Don't do this, or else" conversation has become more nuanced as situations and circumstances have changed.
Living in a legal state? That doesn't mean you're off the hook. In fact, you have an even bigger responsibility to set stuff straight.
So, if you're a parent who is struggling with what to tell your kid when it comes to cannabis, check out our Dos and Don'ts below to help get the conversation started.
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 (that does NOT mean 18-years-old).
DO: Be honest. Explain that in many states, cannabis is legal as a prescription medication. And, like any other prescribed medication, it is illegal to use if it's not yours. Explain to young kids, and teens alike, the way marijuana can affect a developing brain.
There's nothing wrong with saying, "A lot of people receive great benefits from cannabis, but it can actually harm you if your brain and body are still developing." It's also important to point out the difference between most medical marijuana that is used for treatments in a variety of serious ailments in children (low THC, high CBD) and the kind of cannabis they would most likely encounter in a social setting.
DON'T: Use scare tactics, especially when talking to teenagers. Teen brains are wired in a way that they are willing to take on risks if there's a perceived benefit. So no amount of "You won't get into college/get a job/have a good life" will really work if they see some sort of benefit in experimenting with marijuana, especially in a peer setting.
DO: Be absolutely clear as to both the legal consequences and the at-home consequences of using marijuana. Remind your child that even though cannabis may be legal in certain situations, that odds are, it is not legal for them and the consequences are real. There is no need to hyperbolize these consequences, however. Just be firm in maintaining the rules and boundaries of your house (despite their protesting, kids and teens actually do a lot better and feel safer with clear rules and consequences in place!).
DON'T: Act irresponsibly. Kids and teens learn the best through modeling—i.e. through watching us behave and interact in the world. They absorb everything we do, and it impacts how they act. Don't leave flower or paraphernalia strewn about the house. Don't get so high that it prevents you from going to work or taking care of your family. Don't blow off family obligations because you're high.
DO: If you do use marijuana—either for medicinal purposes or recreationally—make sure you do so in a safe, healthy way. Simply be responsible! Keep your stash locked up and don't smoke in front of children (second hand smoke—even cannabis—is not good for developing bodies). You can also distinguish for your kids the difference between responsible use and becoming a "burn out".
Listen to your kids. Answer their questions appropriately and listen to what they have to say.
Let them know you are here for them. That even though there are laws and family rules against using it, that you are there to listen to any questions they have and are there to help them if they need it.
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.