Marijuana: the next generation

Strategies for discussing marijuana use with your children

In the face of new legislation and expanded options for both medical and recreational use of marijuana, parents are faced with new challenges in explaining the risks and consequences of using to their children. With greater accessibility and societal acceptance, it is imperative that parents respond with three defined tactics: strive to keep the lines of communication open; use a proactive approach to address the topic; and establish and maintain healthy personal and family boundaries.

"Parents need to be aware that the marijuana of today is not the marijuana of the 1970s," said Kate Roselle, Family Program Professional at Hazelden in Plymouth, Minnesota. "The potency is exponentially higher, and as a result, marijuana use is causing many more problems in brain functioning, in memory, and even in IQ. This higher potency also creates a greater risk for overdose, which can result in an individual falling into a state of active psychosis and in need of hospitalization."

When’s the "right" time to talk with my child?

Anytime is the right time to talk with your child about marijuana. "Many parents are walking on eggshells when it comes to talking with their child about drug use," said Roselle. "However, waiting until there is a problem or crisis—when the child is high and everyone is angry and scared—is probably not the ideal time." Fear of speaking up often means that nothing is said until things come to a boiling point. It's important to lay a positive foundation for the conversation and talk about it before it becomes a huge issue. "Anytime is a good time to open the lines of communication, except when your line is yelling and screaming," said Roselle.

How do I start the conversation?

Cultivating an atmosphere of open, honest communication is the best way to approach your child about this important topic. "Kids are more likely to open up to their parents if they don't feel they are being judged," said Roselle. You may choose to start the conversation with the simple statement: "Let's talk about this." And then be prepared to follow up with lots of open-ended questions, such as: Have other people offered marijuana to you? How do you feel about it? What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you know the risks? Starting the conversation in such an open way means that kids know their parents are willing to listen—even if they don't like what they're hearing.

What are some of the signs of drug use?

One of the tricky things about adolescents is that all of the early signs of addiction to drugs or alcohol mimic normal adolescent behavior—moodiness, opposition to parental rules, sleeping all day, or hanging around with different friends. That's why it's important to ensure that the lines of communication are open, and that your child has heard the messages about both alcohol and marijuana. "Just because alcohol is legal doesn't mean they will be become an alcoholic," said Roselle. "And the same is true for marijuana. It's easier to work towards a solution if they have the information they need to make good choices on the front end." If you see these signs and suspect drug use, schedule an assessment with a licensed professional. They can help assess the seriousness of the problem and recommend the appropriate level of care.

How can I encourage my child to seek help?

Oftentimes the motivating factor is negative consequences. These consequences may include being kicked off the sports team for failing classes or they are hospitalized as a result of their drug use. When kids realize their using is problematic, they don't want to be punished. They are already afraid of what that conversation is going to mean. Therefore, it's important that the child knows that if they need help at anytime, day or night, they can depend on their parents to help and support them. "As a parent, my message needs to be: if you communicate to me at any point that this is becoming a problem or difficult for you, my response will be how can we make this better or how can I support you," said Roselle.

What if my child doesn’t want help?

For the majority of kids who want nothing to do with any kind of help, the best thing for parents to remember is that no human being has control over another's thoughts or behaviors. However, parents do have control over their own assets. They can control what happens in their own home; they can determine how they use their time, money, and vehicles. "While parents can't control what happens outside of their home, such as whether their child skips school to smoke weed—they can allow the natural consequences that come as a result of that decision to skip school," said Roselle. "Allowing natural consequences from the school, the sports team, a community group, or the authorities, will help the child reach a point where they want to change more quickly."

Practicing positive self care

It's essential for parents to make sure that they are taking care of themselves as well as other individuals within the household. Setting appropriate boundaries in the home will help families avoid a lot of pain, exhaustion, and turmoil that can result from a child with addiction issues. "It's a biological response on the part of a parent to want to protect their child," said Roselle. "So having to step outside of what your gut is telling you and not protect, is never easy." However, by setting consistent boundaries about what they want their home to feel like and taking control of their assets, parents are allowing their young person to experience natural consequences and effectively stopping the chaos of addictive behavior.

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