This is a unique time for society and for families. No other generation has seen a previously illegal substance be moved into the legal category. And as such, there is a lot of information that people need to know now. Regardless of your family rules regarding consumption of cannabis, this legalization is a wonderful spring board for good family discussions on things like substance abuse, peer pressure, and future personal decisions regarding medications.
Just like all other substances, marijuana is not something that can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone at any time. Like alcohol or prescription medications, there are rules and kids need to know those rules.
As you begin these talks, know that older kids in middle school or high school might claim that they already know everything about marijuana, but don’t let them fool you. Just as you are responsible for educating your child properly about alcohol and sex, so too should you educate them about marijuana. Begin by asking them to tell you what they know. If their information is incorrect, ask where they learned that and then correct them.
There are things that kids should know. These include:
It is imperative that you discuss what legalization means on a state and federal level. Kids need to know that the rules vary from one place to the next, so if you live in a state where it is legal but you travel to a nearby state, it might not be legal there and everyone needs to know when and where it is legal. In almost all states where it is legal, the minimum age is 21. For Canada, it is 18. That means anyone younger than those ages cannot use marijuana. In some places it is absolutely illegal to drive while under the influence, regardless of age. These are things that might seem unimportant for a 10 year old, but are very important for a soon-to-be-17 year old.
Kids need to know the effects of all things. Good drug education courses as part of health classes in high school will explain in detail the different effects of each drug on the market. Sometimes students need to know what the effects are so that they know why to avoid a drug, or what it feels like in case they are (heaven forbid) slipped something against their will. In any case, talk to your child openly about different marijuana strains, how sativa and Indica differ in their effects, so that your kids understand and can recognize the features of someone who is high.
As you explore different facts about marijuana, start by researching how it works, the way it affects the brain of a teen or pre-teen, how it impacts sleep, judgment, and health. Your child needs to be aware that it is a mind-altering substance and it could have many side effects. Use this as a chance to task your child with researching articles about how marijuana works from a medical perspective, and when/where it is good or bad. The good might be when it is used by someone 21 or older in a safe capacity as a medication, while the bad might be used by a child at their friends house, with no idea where the marijuana came from or whether it is pure and safe.
Explain that just because marijuana is legal does not mean it is something they can or should do now. Go back to the effects they studied and explain how it can negatively influence them at their young age.
For most users, there isn’t a serious danger associated with marijuana use—as long as they are over 25 which is when the brain reaches full maturation. Studies have compared intelligence between non-smokers of cannabis and smokers of cannabis in high schools and found a significant decrease in intellectual performance.
Of course, there is also the danger of becoming reliant upon a drug to do something, like get through the day. Addiction can happen when people start relying on a substance to do the things they are meant to do. If your child claims they need sativa marijuana to be awake and get through their day, maybe the bigger problem is that they are overscheduled and need to reconsider all of the activities in which they participate. Being open and honest can help you and your kids work through potential issues like these.
• Peer Pressure
For kids, peer pressure can encourage them to use marijuana the same way they might be pressured into consuming alcohol at a party. Sure, it is legal at a certain age, but they aren’t that age yet so it isn’t legal for them.
Your kids might act like they don’t care about marijuana but rest assured that all kids will face peer pressure at some point. Your kids need to know that they can talk to you when they are pressured. Let them know that if they are at a party or a friends house, they don’t have to stay there. Instead, they can call you at any time of day or night to pick them up. You can express this by simply telling your child something to the effect of:
“You know the dangers to your health and we expect you won’t give in to temptation. But if something comes up and you need help, we are here no matter what.”
Most teens and adults just don’t have the gumption to say “no” when the time comes. They are scared, so they end up saying “yes” in the moment. If your kids know that they can tell you someone offered them marijuana and you won’t freak out on them but instead support them, they are more likely to call you to help intervene before they end up saying “yes” without meaning it.
Overall, remember that with all of these points, a one time conversation isn’t enough. You don’t tell your kids you love them once when they are 3, and then never again. So don’t tell them that you are there for them, or remind them what your rules are, or help them just once. Keep revisiting these conversations from their pre-teens (even if you *hope* they aren’t old enough yet to be exposed or have questions), through high school, and even into college.