Pot and Parenting

How to Talk to Your Kids About Marijuana

Talking to your kids about drugs and alcohol can be difficult. You may feel uncomfortable, you might feel awkward, you might even feel hypocritical, and above all, you might feel like you don’t know the right thing to say.

Today, marijuana in particular is a tricky subject to tackle for many parents and guardians. Cannabis has been illegal on the federal level since 1937, and classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance (the same classification as cocaine and heroin) since 1970. But times are certainly changing. Medical marijuana is now available for qualifying patients in 23 states, and now 4 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older.

This has changed the conversation around cannabis. Society as a whole has become much more accepting of it, in some cases going so far as to legalize and regulate its sale. Marijuana is pervasive in many aspects of popular culture, from music to movies to television. The President has even admitted to trying it.

So how do you talk to your kids about marijuana, and encourage them not to use it until adulthood? How do you have this conversation, especially as society has become more accepting of it, you might’ve vote in favor of its legalization, and you yourself might even be enjoying the fruits of legalization, or using cannabis for approved medical reasons?

We’re here to help prepare parents for these talks. In this guide you’ll find:

  • Reasons why youths should not use marijuana
  • Strategies for talking to your kids about pot
  • Typical questions asked by kids and advice on how to respond
  • A fact “arsenal” to help “arm” yourself for any questions, arguments, or rebuttals your child may have

Though this guide is targeted toward parents and guardians, anyone who works with adolescents – including mentors, teachers, and coaches – will find this information helpful and applicable to them.

Health, Marijuana, and Minors

Adolescent Use of Marijuana

Decarbing: What It Is and Why You Do It

Parents have two main arguments for why adolescents should not use marijuana:

  • It’s illegal – at a federal level, and in states where marijuana has been legalized, for minors 21 years of age and younger
  • Cannabis use can have adverse health benefits for growing bodies and minds

Marijuana use by children and young adults can affect their health in ways that usage by adults does not. The following information can be found through the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

  • Marijuana can be habit-forming, even more so in adolescents. Though not physically addictive, users can become dependent on marijuana – 1 in 11 adults who use marijuana at least once develop a habit, but that number jumps to 1 in 6 for users who start in their teens. On a related note…
  • Marijuana accounts for the largest number of admissions among youth receiving substance abuse treatment. 74% of all admissions for ages 12-14, and 76% for ages 15-17.
  • Marijuana use can lead to lower grades. According to the NIDA, “marijuana has negative effects on attention, motivation, memory, and learning,” and these effects stick around for regular users even after the immediate effects have worn off. This means that “someone who smokes marijuana daily may be functioning at a reduced intellectual level most or all of the time.” Marijuana users are also more likely to drop out of high school.
  • Marijuana can take points off your IQ. Long-term, teens who use marijuana heavily have been found to lose an average of 8 points of IQ by mid-adulthood.
  • Marijuana use makes it harder to identify depression and mental illness in young people. Using marijuana often delays identifying and getting treatment for a number of mental issues adolescents experience, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and mental illnesses.
General Health Implications

Marijuana use carries other health implications for all users:

  • Lung irritability. Smoking marijuana can hurt your lungs, leading to regular coughing, greater risk of chest illnesses, and decreased endurance – something important to athletes.
  • Marijuana messes with judgment. This can lead to risky behavior you wouldn’t try otherwise, and an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases, driving while impaired, or engaging in other activities you wouldn’t normally do.
  • Marijuana users are more likely to use other drugs.Long-term studies of high school students’ patterns of drug use show that most young people who use other drugs have tried marijuana, alcohol, or tobacco first.
  • Marijuana messes with coordination and reflexes. Which is why drugged driving is so dangerous – and punished accordingly by the law.
  • Marijuana affects energy, motivation, and your attention span, and has been linked to memory loss. The forgetful stoner isn’t just an invention of sketch comedy.
  • Marijuana can worsen depression, panic attacks, and mental illnesses. Although there is no evidence that marijuana use causes mental illness, it has been linked to worsening existing symptoms.

Talking to Your Kids About Pot

How to Approach the Discussion

When to Have the Discussion
  • Early. Experts recommend that parents begin the discussion no later than 5th or 6th grade, but earlier is encouraged.
  • Often. Don’t have “THE TALK,” but instead have ongoing, approachable discussions about marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs.
Where to Have the Discussion
  • At the dinner table. Youths appreciate having potentially uncomfortable conversations in comfortable, familiar, and private environments. At the same time, by having a conversation over dinner, you’re sending the message that is an approachable – not taboo – subject and encouraging further discussion.
  • In the car. The other place many parent/child conversations take place is in the car. This can be an important place to have discussions or give reminders before dropping adolescents off at:
    • Parties
    • Dances
    • Sleepovers
    • School-sponsored trips for academics or athletics
    • Or other social events
  • Anywhere. Preventing underage marijuana use is all about communication – so let your child know it’s okay to talk about it anywhere, anytime. Look for teachable moments that can lead to constructive conversations. Some moments may be:
    • In states where medical and/or recreational marijuana is legal, seeing advertisements for cannabis or passing by dispensaries or stores.
    • Seeing something on the news.
    • Observing people using illegally in public.
    • Hearing references to marijuana in popular songs.
    • Seeing references or use in television or movies.
Tactics for Having the Discussion
  • Start the discussion early. Get your message out ahead of others they may be getting from friends or popular culture.
  • Have the conversation in a comfortable setting. We’ve got some suggestions above.
  • Open the lines of communication. Let your child know that they can come talk to you anywhere, anytime, about anything marijuana-related.
  • Find out what they know. Let them start the discussion by sharing what information they know, and correct misconceptions.
  • Maintain a fact arsenal. We’ve got one started for you. Have a variety of facts ready at hand to drill home key points and counter any arguments or misconceptions they may have.
  • Make your expectations clear, and explain why you have those expectations. You don’t want your teen to be using marijuana – period. Then tell them why – it might have to do with health implications.
  • Set Clear Consequences. Let your child know what will happen if they don’t meet your expectations regarding marijuana.
  • Make the Conversation Relatable. Why is it in your child’s interest not to use marijuana as a teen? Relate it to something they care about – sports, getting into college, good grades, getting a driver’s license, getting a job, etc.
  • Be honest. Share what you know, be okay admitting you don’t know something, and honestly answer the tough questions – including whether you’ve used marijuana or not. See our sample questions to get our advice for answering common tough questions.
  • Frame the discussion as a health issue. Rather than as a moral one.
  • Be a good listener. It’s just as important to hear a child’s thoughts, attitudes towards, questions about, and experiences with marijuana as it is sharing your own. It also reinforces that marijuana is something you can communicate about, as a two-way street.
  • Be caring. Above all, let them know that you only want what’s best for them – and you’ll always be there for them, no matter what.
What to Talk About
  • What they already know. And what misconceptions they may have about marijuana.
  • What they should know. Such as the laws about marijuana for minors in your state, the health implications of using marijuana, or anything from your fact arsenal.
  • What your expectations are.
  • What the consequences will be for not meeting those expectations.
  • Answer any questions they have. Engage in a healthy dialogue, and don’t shy away from doing so – use our sample questions for advice on answering common tough questions.
  • The lines of communication are open. And they can talk to you anywhere, anytime, about anything marijuana-related.

Common Questions and How to Answer Them

My other friends are doing it, why can’t I?

What to Say:

What Not to Say:

  • “Your other friends are doing it? Which ones? I’m calling their parents.”
  • “You’re better than your other friends.”

Advice from the Experts:

Isn’t marijuana safer than alcohol?

What to Say:

  • “No one substance is safer than the other. Each affects you in different ways.”
  • “It’s true that marijuana does not cause overdoses or appear to cause cancer. But as with alcohol, it’s extremely dangerous to get behind the wheel of a car while under the influence of marijuana, and you can get in a lot of trouble if caught doing it.”
  • “Marijuana affects your decision-making skills and your judgment. You can put yourself in some really dangerous situations that you might not otherwise.”
  • “Marijuana affects your health and your brain – it’s been linked to poorer grades and athletic performance.”

What Not to Say:

  • “No one can die from marijuana so I guess you’re right.”
  • “Marijuana is actually more dangerous than alcohol because it’ll make you go crazy.”

Advice from the Experts:

  • “It’s true that a lot of people die each year from driving while under the influence, alcohol poisoning, and from smoking cigarettes, so you should stress why you don’t want your child using alcohol or tobacco either.” – Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
  • “‘It’s only marijuana’ is how some parents think … Be careful not to condone use in any way.” – Sharon Levy, Children’s Hospital Boston
Have you used marijuana?

For advice for parents who currently use marijuana, see our Tips for Parents Who Use Marijuana.

What to Say:

  • “No, and here are the reasons why I chose not to.”
  • “No, and it wasn’t easy. Here’s how I did it.”
  • “Yes. When I was in high school I was offered weed and was not strong enough to say no.”
  • “I tried it, and I learned a lot from that experience which I’d like to share with you now so you don’t make the same mistake.”

What Not to Say:

  • “It’s not about me, it’s about you.”
  • “That isn’t relevant.”
  • “I don’t want to talk about that.”

Advice from the Experts:

  • “Try not to get bogged down in your past, but focus instead on what you learned and what you know now as an adult, as well as your concern for your child and his/her future.” – Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
  • “Owning up to past use could be a positive. It allows the parent to say: ‘I’ve been there, I know what it’s like” and the kid to say, ‘Hey, I might not be able to pull wool over their eyes.’” – Jason M. Goldberg, clinical social worker
  • “Never lie to your child. Your kid’s trust in you is too important to risk losing.” – Lori Holden, author
If you used to do it, why can’t I?

What to Say:

  • “Marijuana is not okay for a teenager – period. It wasn’t okay when I did it, and it’s not okay for you now.”
  • “I made that mistake and learned a lot from it, which I’d like to share with you.”
  • “We’re different people. You have a chance to be your own person and choose your own path.”
  • “When you turn 21, you can make your own decisions. But until then, you need to respect the law – and the laws of our household.”
  • “Times have changed. The marijuana is a lot more potent, and the consequences are potentially harsher.”

What Not to Say:

  • “Because I said so.”

Advice from the Experts:

  • “Frame your disclosure as you being honest in trying to help your child avoid the pitfalls of substance use, not as your giving permission to begin using.” – Dr. Joan Simeo Munson
  • “Be educated on how marijuana has changed. A lot of people smoked even 10 years ago and the potency continues to go up. You’re dealing with a different type of marijuana.” – Kelly Kerby, licensed mental health counselor
  • “Deal with your own issues about the topic prior to having conversations with your child. Any emotional charge you bring to the table will affect the clarity of your message.” – Lori Holden, author
If weed is legal in certain parts of the country (or other countries), why can’t I use it?

What to Say:

  • “Alcohol and tobacco are also legal, and just like those substances, marijuana can be abused and be detrimental to your health too.”
  • “In those places, marijuana is legal for adults 21 and over – and you’re not an adult yet. It’s still illegal for you and you could get in a lot of trouble.”
    • “Being arrested for a Minor in Possession of marijuana can affect your ability to get a job or get into college.”
  • “When you turn 21, you can make your own decisions – as a responsible, law-abiding adult.”

What Not to Say:

  • “Because those people are wrong.”
  • “The laws around here are different so it doesn’t matter what they’ve decided.”

Advice from the Experts:

What about vaping or edibles? Aren’t those safer than smoking?

What to Say:

  • “With edibles, you have no idea how much cannabis you’re ingesting.”
  • “It’s a lot easier to end up in the emergency room because of edibles than from smoking.”
  • “Just because it looks harmless or tastes like regular sweets doesn’t mean it’s not potent.”
  • “Vaporizing just takes away the smoke – you’re still ingesting the drug.”
  • “If you’re vaporizing wax or oils, you have no idea what other chemicals are in there.”

What Not to Say:

  • “Vaping? What’s that?”
  • “All forms of marijuana are bad.”

Advice from the Experts:

What should I do if I’m tempted, or if others are using around me?

What to Say:

  • “Use some of the ‘outs’ we talked about.”
  • “Think about your goals – does marijuana help you achieve them?”
  • “Text or call me and I’ll come pick you up right away. You’ll never get in trouble for that.”
  • “Your friends should respect your choice not to. And if they don’t, they’re not being good friends.”

What Not to Say:

  • “Just don’t give in to temptation. It’s easy.”
  • “You’ll be in a lot of trouble with me if you’re around people smoking pot.”
  • “You won’t be able to hang out with those friends anymore.”
  • “I’m going to tell all the other parents.”

Advice from the Experts:

  • “If you want your child to be confident, assertive, and stand up for his beliefs, make sure you display those behaviors. Kids mimic what they see.” – Dr. Michelle Borba

Resources for Parents

Fact Arsenal for Parents

Parents need to “arm” themselves with facts about marijuana when discussing cannabis with their kids. Use this fact “arsenal” to brush up before discussing marijuana with adolescents.

Health
  • 1 in 11 adults who use marijuana develop a habit.
  • 1 in 6 users who start in their teens become dependent on marijuana.
  • Marijuana accounts for the largest number of admissions among youth receiving substance abuse treatment – 74% of all admissions ages 12-14, and 76% for ages 15-17.
  • 90% of Americans with a substance abuse problem began smoking, drinking, or using drugs before age 18.
  • Marijuana use makes it harder to identify depression and mental illness in young people, and as a result delays treatment.
  • Marijuana can worsen the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and mental illness.
  • Regular marijuana use causes lung irritability, which can lead to regular coughing, greater risk and frequency of chest illnesses, and shortness of breath.
  • High doses of marijuana can induce acute psychosis or panic attacks.
Behavior, School, and Athletics
  • Marijuana use on average leads to lower grades.
  • Marijuana users are more likely to drop out of high school.
  • Teens who use marijuana heavily have been found to lose an average of 8 points of IQ by mid-adulthood.
  • Marijuana users are more likely to use other drugs, including alcohol and tobacco.
  • Marijuana impairs judgment and puts users more at risk for risky behavior.
  • Marijuana impairs coordination and reflexes.
  • Heavy marijuana use decreases endurance.
  • Marijuana use is linked to decreases in:
    • Energy
    • Motivation
    • Energy
    • Energy
  • Marijuana is linked to memory loss.
  • 77% of 12th graders did not use marijuana in the past 30 days.
The Law
  • Marijuana is illegal at a federal level.
  • In some states, possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor, and certain amounts can be a felony.
    • In these states, possession can lead to jail time and mandatory minimums which mean a minimum jail sentence no matter what.
  • In states where marijuana is legal, it’s only legal for adults 21 and over.
    • In these states, anyone under 21 caught with marijuana can be charged with a Minor in Possession (MIP) or similar charge. MIPs can result in:
      • Fines
      • Jail time
      • Mandatory minimums
      • License suspension
  • A drug conviction on your record makes it much more difficult to:
    • Get into college
    • Get a job
    • Rent an apartment
  • It’s illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana. Many states have their own drugged driving laws that are similar to getting a DUI for alcohol. Penalties include:
    • Fines
    • Jail time
    • License suspension
“Outs” for Adolescents

Adolescents may eventually find themselves in a situation where others around them are using marijuana, and they may even be offered marijuana themselves.

Having “outs” – responses to help them decline the offer – are helpful in staying drug-free. Go over these “outs” with your youth, and practice role-playing them so they may become comfortable using them.

  • “I’m trying to quit.”
  • “I tried it, and I don’t like how it makes me feel.”
  • “I’ve got too much to do tomorrow (studying, sports game, etc.).”
  • “My parents are picking me up soon and they’ll know.”
  • “My parents can always tell. I can’t risk it.”
How to Tell if Your Child Has Been Using Marijuana

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, these are some signs that your child may be using marijuana:may become comfortable using them.

  • Seems unusually giggly
  • Seems unusually uncoordinated
  • May have red, bloodshot eyes or frequently use eye drops
  • May have difficulty remembering things that just happened
  • Has drug paraphernalia, such as pipes or rolling papers
  • Clothes smell strange, or their room smells odd
  • Seems unusually uncoordinated
  • Keeps incense, Febreeze, or other deodorizers in their room, backpack, locker, or car
  • Wears clothing or jewelry, or has posters, artwork, etc. that promotes drug use
  • Has less money than normal or has unexplained cash on hand
Tips for Parents Who Use Marijuana

Many responsible adults – including parents – enjoy marijuana. But how do you enjoy marijuana as a parent, especially when telling your children not to use marijuana as a child or young adult?

Follow these tips. In addition, check out this excellent editorial by Brittany Driver, a contributing writer to the Cannabist, a marijuana user and advocate, and a parent who does not want her children using marijuana while underage.

  • Don’t use marijuana around your children. It undermines your message to them.
  • Keep your marijuana hidden, preferably locked up, in a safe place. Make sure your children don’t have access to your marijuana.
  • Continue to have candid discussions about marijuana. Follow all the advice we’ve given so far about talking to your kids about pots.
  • Use discretion when talking about your current use. That you don’t necessarily need to share, or share the full extent of, if you feel it sends mixed signals.
Additional Resources
  • A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Underage Marijuana Use: This pamphlet, prepared by Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Social Development Research Group, is geared to help parents prevent underage cannabis use now that marijuana is legal in Washington State. It’s helpful for parents anywhere in the country, with marijuana facts and strategies for parents.
  • Above the Influence: Originally an ad campaign started by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, this website offers facts and tools to help adolescents stay “above the influence” of drugs and alcohol.
  • Children’s Hospital Colorado: Features an extensive guide on “How to Talk to Kids About Marijuana.”
  • Drug Prevention 4 Teens: This guide was put together by the Drug Enforcement Administration in partnership with Learning for Life. The guide covers why young people use drugs, how to raise awareness, and what adolescent can do. The guide covers many drugs, with a section on cannabis.
  • MedlinePlus: Get a wealth of facts about marijuana straight from the National Institutes of Health and the National Library of Medicine. This website features a ton of research and scientific information on marijuana, some of it highly technical, but there are also resources for parents, children, and teens.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): Check their section on marijuana – Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know – which contains an FAQ and advice for talking to your kids about marijuana. Additionally, NIDA for Teens, while geared specifically to young adults, has information for educators including lessons, guides, and tools.
  • Partnership for Drug-Free Kids: Features a Parent Toolkit to help parents talk to their kids about all drugs, including marijuana, as well as general information. Also gives advice for parents who think they’re child is using, or knows they are.
  • Start Talking Now: A guide for parents to talk to their children about drugs and alcohol, with some marijuana-specific information.