How to Talk to Your Kids About Legal Marijuana

by Hollee Actman Becker
Originally Published: 

I think you mean “pot brownies,” I said, butting in.

She shrugged. “What’s the difference?”

OK. Time for a serious drug convo.

Not even sure if crack brownies were actually a thing—are they?—I started with “If someone offers you a crack brownie, you say no. If someone offers you a pot brownie, you say…”

And that’s where I stumbled. Less than 20 words in. Because I don’t really know how to talk to my kids about pot. And the fact that recreational pot use is now legal in a handful of states has complicated things even more. Because as Sue Scheff (a parent advocate who works with children in at-risk communities) recently told CNN, kids think, “Well, it’s legal, so it must be OK.”

Newsflash—it’s still illegal for kids to use pot. But explaining to your kid why it’s OK for you in some states and not for them can be tricky. So according to Kelly Caywood, Ph.D., clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, it’s important that we tackle the topic in an open and non-judgmental way.

Here’s how:

Look for an Opening

Caywood says parents can begin talking to their children about marijuana around age 10, but if the child asks questions younger than that—maybe they saw someone smoking on TV?—then by all means go ahead and start the conversation sooner. “Start by asking questions like, “What do you know about marijuana?” “What do you think about the legalization of marijuana?” or, “What are some questions you have about marijuana?” she says, adding that you should avoid “formal” conversations like calling a family meeting, since those can make kids shut down.

Be Clear About Expectations

Kids thrive in environments with clear boundaries, says Caywood. “However, harsh punishments probably won’t motivate them to stop using marijuana, and punishment could damage your relationship.” Let your kids know you’re willing to sit down and have a conversation with them, and they may be more willing to come seek your help.

Lose the Fried Egg Bit

Remember those awesome “This is Your Brain on Drugs” commercials? I can still hear the egg sizzling in the pan like so many teenage brain cells. But as Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director for Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment, told CNN, while recent research shows using marijuana during adolescence could have a long-term impact on a teen’s memory, problem-solving skills and critical thinking, telling this to your teen is a sure way to get them to tune you out. “Research shows that that’s like a turn-off,” he said.

Think Like a Teen

Instead of focusing on the health risks, Wolk encourages parents to talk to their kids about things they care about. Like graduation, for example, or driving. “It’s taking kids along the track of, ‘Well, you’re putting in jeopardy your potential to do well in school or to graduate or to…get your driver’s license,” he said. “Because marijuana does impair you if you’re going to use it and drive, and it does impair you if you’re trying to study or you’re trying to do well in school or you’re trying to get a good job.”

‘Fess Up

While you don’t have to discuss every detail of your doobage, Caywood says if your child specifically asks about it, you should try and be honest. “For example, you can say, ‘I have tried it before and this was my experience,'” she says, adding that if you still use it occasionally for recreation, you can say something like, “I’m of age and use it in a conscientious manner.”

Be There

Finally, Caywood says it’s important that your child knows he or she can call you when in trouble. Tell them this, she says: “If you’re in a situation where you feel unsafe, you can call me and I will help you.” And if you do get a call, she says, you better make good on your promise and actually go help.

For more tips, check out How to Talk to Your Kids About Marijuana here.

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