The Challenge of Parenting Teens in the Age of Legalized Marijuana

Teens and Legalized MarijuanaAs marijuana has begun to shed its restrictive laws, you’ve likely been the audience to plenty of speculation about how legalized marijuana will affect crime, state tax revenue, local businesses, and cultural attitudes toward health and drug consumption. As a parent, your questions probably hit a little closer to home, but they matter even more. “Will my kids be more likely to abuse marijuana now that it’s legal?” “How easy is marijuana to come by for teenagers?” “What can I say to my increasingly independent teenager to keep him from smoking?”

 The Problem for Parents

Legalized marijuana can throw a unique wrench into your parenting plans. It’s harder to meaningfully convey to your teen why using marijuana isn’t the best decision, when it’s available for purchase at the corner store. Maybe you occasionally use marijuana yourself or know parents who do. Either way, it’s dawned on you that your child will likely learn about marijuana early. For many teenagers, smoking marijuana can seem like an appealing, easily-seized opportunity: it’s an accessible experiment, it pushes their behavioral boundaries and, now that it’s legal, the consequences don’t appear quite so dire.

In the world of legalized marijuana, it’s harder to start and end a family discussion about drugs by warning against peer pressure; it isn’t just their peers who smoke, it’s also their parents, neighbors, and people on TV. Teens might look more like adults than their younger siblings, but they’re in much greater emotional and developmental turmoil than ever before. Right now, your teen is discovering who he is apart from you—an often challenging transition. Hormonal changes and neurobiological developments make impulses much louder, and they echo inside a mind that doesn’t yet have the tools to seriously consider risk.

 Approaching the New, Tricky Subject of Legalized Marijuana with Your Teen

Because your teenager isn’t thinking about negative outcomes, focusing no further than that evenings social plans and unfolding peer dramas, parental modeling and encouraging critical thinking becomes even more critical. The good news is, the increasing familiarity of legalized marijuana makes it a little easier to talk about openly and practically. You know your teenager will come across it; you want him to be informed so that they can begin to use the critical thinking skills as well as strong judgment you have been so diligent in teaching.

Teen marijuana use does come with plenty of risks:

  • Studies show that teen marijuana abuse could permanently disrupt important developments in the ability to make memories and process information.
  • The teenage mind lends itself a little easier to drug abuse, which puts them at higher risk for drug dependence as well as compounding mental health problems.
  • Teen marijuana use poses risks to mood regulation, academic and athletic performance, forming positive social relationships, and often stunts emotional and cognitive development.
  • Because marijuana is minimized by teens as “less harmful than alcohol” there has been a rise in teen marijuana related DUI’s. Many teens are not aware of or discount marijuana’s strong effects on perception, judgment, cognition, mood, processing speed and motor functioning which impairs their ability to drive and compromises their awareness of their own surroundings.

Research shows that while marijuana poses long-term threats to the mental health of your teenager, hearing that won’t deter them from smoking. Discussions about long term effects, brain development, and marijuana being a gateway drug are important focal points but, from a teens perspective, will likely sound like a lecture. To further support an open dialogue, encourage your teen to express their thoughts and feelings about marijuana use as well as the reasons why they think it is okay or not. This may give you insight into their peer group, why they think people use marijuana and what they would do or have done when offered to marijuana. Create a sense of safety and honesty by asking questions and validating their experiences and feelings. Relate a personal story from your past and how you handled the given situation, and what you could have done differently, in an effort to join with your teen. The goal is to create and encourage their communication with you as they try to navigate these complicated personal and social issues.

For most of life’s problems we can assist our children and teens through their struggles because they often come to us for guidance. Their problems are usually developmentally “typical” and can be handled using the parental tools we already posses. Marijuana/drug use stirs feelings of fear, disappointment, confusion, anger, and self doubt as many parents mistakenly personalize their teens marijuana use as their parenting failure. Drug use and experimentation is very different and much riskier for at teen to talk about then the C+ they got on their history final. Creating a non-reactive environment rich with love, guidance, thoughtful boundaries, and support can help to reduce the need for secrecy teens feel about more challenging issues such as marijuana use.

If a loved one is struggling with substance use and you are feeling at a loss as to how to help them, please feel free to contact us so we can discuss an effective therapeutic plan and begin the healing process.



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