It’s the most difficult conversation you’ll ever have with your teenager(s). And no, we’re not talking about the sex talk. Heck, compared to weed, explaining the hydraulics of sex is a walk in the park.
With cannabis, there are so many grey areas—especially if you live in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, and you’re a consumer yourself (and your kids are very aware of that fact.) How do you tell them that cannabis is a miracle plant that, when used responsibly, can change your life for the better, but only when you’re an adult so please don’t even think about it?
It’s not just about discouraging them from experimenting with cannabis before they reach legal age. It’s about giving them the tools to make the right decisions when the time comes. Here are two pointers from parents who’ve survived this particular minefield and lived to tell the tale.
1. Bring Up Cannabis, Then Keep Bringing It Up
Talking about weed with your kids isn’t a one-time conversation, says Elizabeth D’Amico. “It’s 60 little conversations.” The key is looking for those teachable moments to happen organically when you can talk to your kids without making them feel cornered.
“There’s always something on TV or the news about cannabis,” says D’Amico. The vaping deaths among young people earlier this fall, in which a third of victims reported using vaping products containing THC, was just such an opportunity. “I might ask her, ‘Hey, I’m curious what you and your friends have been saying about all these vaping illnesses.’ It’s not me trying to lecture her or scare her away from vaping. It’s just getting her to talk about it. It doesn’t have to be a big deal.”
“Mom 4/20” columnist Rebecca Eckler describes her ongoing discussions with her 16-year-old daughter, Rowan, as “micro-conversations.” They happen “whenever an opportunity presents itself,” she says. It could be a story in the news about cannabis that they discuss over breakfast, or an offhand comment before Rowan leaves for a party with peers. “I always ask, ‘Will people be doing drugs?’” says Eckler. “But I ask like I’m just a curious friend, which makes her answer like a friend.”
2. Tell them the Truth (the Whole Scary Truth)
The temptation may be there to employ a “scared straight” approach to keeping them away from cannabis. But don’t be one of those parents who lecture their teens on how “their lives will be ruined forever” if they so much as smell that demon weed. They’ll figure out eventually that you’re just blowing smoke.
But there are some scary realities about cannabis that are worth sharing. “Let them know what they can expect if they do try it,” says Nikola Djordjevic, a family physician and medical advisor at cannabis tech startup Loud Cloud Health. “Explain how cannabis affects each person differently, and while it can be a fun experience for some, it can also be terrifying for others. You can even tell them that you might get panic attacks and anxiety from taking it, which might be enough to discourage them.”
If you want arguments against cannabis with a little less ambiguity, the science is firmly on the side of “It’s better to wait.” A 2018 study from the University of Vermont found that even low levels of cannabis use—which can be as little as one or two joints a year—can have long-term effects on the teenage brain. According to researchers, just a handful of puffs is enough to increase the gray matter volume in their cannabinoid receptors, at an age when the adolescent brain should be going through its “pruning” period, becoming thinner rather than thicker.
Even more alarming, a 2011 study from the Netherlands found that young people who smoked cannabis as little as five times during their teen years were twice as likely to develop psychosis in adulthood.