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How Do I Talk to My Teen About the Legalization of Cannabis?

These Four Strategies – and Our Talking Kits – Can Help

Today, it can be eaten in the form of a brownie or gummy bear. It can even be sucked out of a plastic pen.

Cannabis, commonly called marijuana, weed, pot and dope, has changed dramatically over the last few decades. These new ways to consume it have higher concentrations of THC – a mind-altering chemical – than when you were a teenager and recreational use of marijuana is legal in nearly half the country now. 

Facts About Teen Cannabis Use

In late 2022, Missouri joined the growing list of states that allow all individuals aged 21 and older to purchase, possess and consume cannabis. 

While it is still illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase or use cannabis in Missouri, the new landscape may remove barriers to access for teens. This is something parents should be cognizant of since many high school students are already experimenting with cannabis.

Nearly 30% of 10th graders have tried cannabis, according to the University of Michigan’s children’s hospital. The percentage rises to 45% by 12th grade, with over 22% of high school seniors reporting that they’ve used the substance in the past month and 6% reporting that they use it daily. 

According to an NIH study, 60% of 12th graders don’t view marijuana use as harmful, a dramatic drop from when data was first collected in the 1990s. We expect this trend to continue as more states legalize marijuana. 

In reality, teens who use cannabis recreationally are two to four times more likely to develop psychiatric disorders, such as depression and anxiety, than teens who don’t use cannabis at all, according to a recent Columbia University study

What to Do in the Wake of Cannabis Legalization

So, we’ve compiled a list of tips for talking to your teenager about cannabis as the substance becomes more socially accepted and widely available. 

Set and Reinforce Realistic Expectations

Remind your teen that cannabis legalization does not equate to harmlessness. Alcohol and cigarettes are also legal but can still have severe consequences on one’s physical, mental and social well-being.

Research has linked parental opposition to cannabis with lower usage among their children. So, it is important to be clear with your teen on your stance. But, make sure it comes from a place of love, concern and respect. 

The consequences for breaking one of your family’s rules around cannabis should also be clearly communicated and realistic. 

Ultimately, your teen should feel comfortable coming to you if they get into a sticky situation. So, avoid threatening punishments that are too extreme or using language that frames use as shameful or unforgivable. 

With cannabis legalization comes more opportunities for your teen to be offered the drug, and peer pressure is one of the biggest reasons teens try cannabis for the first time. So, brainstorm gameplans your teen can use to get them out of scenarios where they might feel pressured to try the drug. 

For example: 

  • How should they respond if someone offers them cannabis? 
  • How can they gracefully remove themselves from a setting where others are using? 
  • Is there a code word or phrase they can text you when they need help?  

It’s important that your teenager works with you to create these game plans because, at the end of the day, they have to be comfortable executing them. 

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Rather than being the rule enforcer and “no” man, think of yourself as a sounding board. Instead of telling your teen what to do or asking “yes” or “no” questions, ask them open-ended questions that encourage a dialogue. This shows that you value their opinions and also allows you to learn more about their feelings toward cannabis. 

It’s often fruitful to lead with questions about peers, books, or theoreticals so your teen doesn’t feel like their actions are being judged.

Our Talking Kits have a selection of open-ended conversation starters for you to choose from.

Root your concern in facts, not abstract fear.

You want your teen to view you as a knowledge resource so, before talking to them, read up on the unique risks cannabis poses to the adolescent mind and body. Just like laws are rapidly changing in every state, there’s new research coming out everyday. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are good places to look. Our In the Weeds edition of our PreventTable podcast also tackles a new question about cannabis every week. 

Keep it brief, but regular 

Making your teen sit down for long conversations about drug use can feel forced and uncomfortable. 

Check-in regularly, using the prior three strategies, but keep the conversations brief and light. Also, choose informal times to have the conversations, like in the car or during dinner.

The most important thing is to make sure your child knows where you stand on cannabis and that you’re there to support them as they learn to make healthy decisions in a world where laws and social norms around the substance are changing. 

You’ve Got This, And We’re Here to Support You

At PreventEd, we know having conversations with your teen about cannabis use can seem intimidating, uncomfortable, tough or a combination of all three. But, starting open dialogues about taboo topics like this is often the hardest part. 

Once the conversations start flowing, most parents are happy they opened the door to them. And, the tips in this blog are tried-and-true methods to help you talk with your teen about cannabis. 

If you need further support, please reach out to one of our counselors, here.

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