The Do’s and Don’ts of Discussing Marijuana With Your Teen
Marijuana use among teens, which had declined from the late 1990s through the mid-to-late 2000s, is on the rise again. Government data show that almost 40 percent of U.S. high school students have tried marijuana, about 20 percent are current users and close to 10 percent first tried it before age 13.
Parents recognize the need to talk to their kids about drugs and alcohol. But many are waiting to have these conversations late into middle school years. Some parents are waiting until their child enters high school. Why are parents waiting to have these conversations? Why is it difficult for parents to talk about marijuana with their teenagers?
Communication itself can be hard
Communication with your teenager can be difficult. Sometimes parents just struggle with listening and talking with their kids. Some teens just have difficult dispositions and aren’t fun to talk with. For some families, communication has always been a struggle. For other families, the shift into the tween and teen years brought havoc and disrupted the communication between parents and kids.
Parents feel inadequate in what to say
You’d be surprised how much information (or misinformation) teens have about marijuana and weed culture. I’m surprised at times how much research teenagers have done regarding marijuana and its use.
Parents can over-talk and over-communicate
Many parents complain that their teens don’t open up to them. Yet, when parents and the kid are in my office, the parents dominate the session. Parents say they want to hear what their teen has to say, but they aggressively disagree with them, interrupt them, correct them, and challenge them. Unfortunately, many parents basically do everything that communicates to their teen they don’t want to hear what they have to say. They just want their teen to listen to them, agree with them, and do what they say.
A lot of over-talk comes from fear and anxiety. When parents are worried about their kids, they’ll talk in circles because the issue is so important to them. Or parents will over-talk when they fear that they are not getting thru to their teen.
It’s not easy for parents to know how to address marijuana with their children. How do parents hit that sweet spot where they don’t minimize or deny problems but also don’t automatically go into crisis mode and lose perspective? So how does a parent go about tackling the topic of marijuana in an informed, a proactive, and preventative manner?
It is Imperative You Address the Issue of Marijuana with your Teen
More than one in five parents of teens believe what they say has little influence on whether their child will use drugs or alcohol; however, teens who believe their parents would strongly disapprove of them using substances are less likely to do so. Strong parental disapproval of substance use is still the most significant influence on teen’s behavior. Teens report their parents’ beliefs around drugs and alcohol have the most influence on their choices.
The conversation around marijuana and teenagers comes down to strong communication skills and sticking to the facts. Neither are automatically easy endeavors. I have previously written about some of the data regarding marijuana’s impact on teens. The main points I tend to discuss with teens and highlight are:
1. Marijuana poses risks despite what teens or our culture may say or believe
2. Marijuana is not as safe as it once was
3. Marijuana poses specific risks to the developing teen brain
4. Marijuana poses specific risks to a teen’s mental health
5. Earlier use of marijuana poses greater risk for cognitive decline
Talking to Your Teen About Weed: The To-Do List:
Here are a few tips to try to stick to when starting up a dialogue about marijuana.
Create an optimal time and environment
Do you want to have a meaningful conversation with your teen? Then don’t blindside them. Nothing will sabotage a conversation like an ambush by parents. Arrange a time when you can talk with your teen. Let them know ahead of time. Consider alternate locations or setups. Go for a walk in the neighborhood. Grab a coffee and chat at Starbucks. Parents sometimes make the mistake of having every conversation occur either at the dinner table or cornering the kids in their own bedroom. Do something with your teen that your teen enjoys. Sometimes when we’re involved in an activity this can lower our guard and make it easier for parents to talk.
Listen and ask questions
The more you speak, and the longer you talk, the less your teen will listen or want to engage with you. Parents, you may have all these facts and information you are wanting to impart on your teen. But prioritize connection over content. Ask them questions about what they know, believe, or have been told about marijuana. This strategy will only work if parents genuinely care about what their kids think and believe. Do you care? Many teens complain that their parents don’t understand them. Listening to understand versus to reply makes a big difference.
The importance of “validation”
Parenting experts cannot emphasize enough the importance of validation. What does validation mean? Validation is essentially letting your teen know that what they think and feel makes sense given their perspective. What should parents validate? Parents should validate their teens right to think and feel the way that they feel and think.
This form of validation can be difficult for some parents. I come across many parents that do not agree with this definition of validation. They do not believe their kids should think differently than they do. They repeatedly dismiss or invalidate their teenager’s emotions and feelings. And in doing so, parents have sent their teen the message that communication with their parents is pointless at best and hurtful at its worst.
Share with them your thoughts and beliefs on the matter
Parents regularly complain to me their frustrations about their teen. They feel like they do all the validating and listening and their teenagers don’t reciprocate. Parents often complain that it feels like they do more of the work in the relationship. This belief is often true. But it is also developmentally normal. A parent’s relationship with their children is not meant to be equally balanced in terms of authority, impact, and effort. That’s called peer friendships and relationships.
Having said that, parents need to be able to express themselves with their kids. The more a parent prioritizes the previous three principles, the likelier your teen will listen and consider your point of view.
Validate beliefs and emotions, but enforce behaviors
It is developmentally appropriate and normal for teens to have different beliefs and opinions about things. The topic of marijuana is no different. However, parents you do have the right to set expectations for your home and when it comes to raising your teen. Your teen may believe they should be able to smoke marijuana. They have a right to believe what they believe.
However, you have a right to parent your children with the expectations that are clear, concise, and with potential incentive or consequences tied to them. If you believe marijuana use is not appropriate or safe for your teen, then you can enforce that expectation.
Talking to Your Teen About Pot: The To-Don’t List:
Here is a list of conversation killers to avoid.
Making it one, all-or-nothing conversation
Be open to ongoing conversations. This can take the pressure off everyone. Now, parents don’t have to cover everything in one, overlong conversation. This principle is especially important when things start to go south. Is the conversation starting to become a debate? Disengage and take a break. Are there points you want your teen to consider and think about? Give them time to reflect on what you’ve shared. Are there points your teen brought up you need to think about before responding? Follow up in a couple of days.
Reacting or Overreacting in Irrational or Fear-based way
Remember, not every disagreement is a conflict. If things start to get heated, take a break. Emotionality can be contagious.
Lecturing or interrupting them
Want to piss off your teen and sabotage a conversation? Cut them off, talk over them, or immediately correct them about something. That is conversation killer 101.
Moralizing, judging, or condemning your teen
Making judgments about your teen will not help. This point sounds so basic, and yet, many parents fail epically in this area.
Generalizing other teens who use marijuana
Making judgments about teens or people who use marijuana will not help. Stay focused on your teen, their choices, and your expectations.
Generalizing marijuana risk with other drugs
Yes, alcohol, heroin, and others drugs may pose a greater risk than marijuana. Do not casually dismiss these facts. The more you play fast and loose with facts, the less likely your teen will believe what you say is accurate or informative.
Marijuana is Here to Stay. So Let’s Get the Facts Straight
The conversation around marijuana and teenagers comes down to strong communication skills and sticking to the facts. Neither are automatically easy endeavors.