We all have our own experiences and views on marijuana, but it can be difficult to know how to approach the topic with your children while being truthful, supportive, and informative. This conversation is especially important as cannabis becomes more prevalent in American culture.
“We have to start from a place of understanding that [kids] are going to be exposed to marijuana,” says Cari McCarty, a Research Professor at Seattle Children’s Center for Child Health, Behavior, and Development. She explained to Parentology that because kids will be exposed to marijuana – either in real life or popular culture – that parents should, “have the conversation with them so that they can process and understand our values regarding marijuana use.”
Whether or not you live in a state that has legalized marijuana, the truth is that your kids are likely to be exposed to cannabis sometime before or during high school. Creating an open and honest environment can guide them through these challenges and help them make the right decisions.
How Marijuana Can Impact Your Child’s Health
When children are exposed to cannabis from an early age, it’s easy for them to perceive the drug as a normal and harmless part of life. They may know people at school who use marijuana, and they’ll see advertisements and pot shops if you happen to live in a legal state.
Unlike alcohol, the truth is that there is still significant research to be done on the ways in which marijuana use affects our health. That said, it’s important to understand that cannabis can interact differently with young developing brains than it does with fully-grown adults.
“It can interfere with learning, health, and brain development,” McCarty notes. Furthermore, the American Psychological Association states that cannabis use in early adulthood or adolescence leads to an increased risk for a range of negative outcomes such as unemployment, dropping out of school, and reduced happiness.
“The key reason parents don’t want their children to use marijuana is that they care about them and want them to be successful,” she says. “The message we want to be sending before age 21 is that we expect that [our kids] will not be using marijuana.”
When Should the Conversation Start?
It’s crucial to start having conversations regarding cannabis use well before your child is put in a position to try the drug. Although every child’s development is different, McCarty says that by the time kids are in fourth or fifth grade, parents should be asking if they’ve heard of it.
“Parents have a huge influence,” McCarty says. Even though some parents may feel as though social pressures can overpower a child, she adds that “Kids are much less likely to use marijuana when they’ve heard a message saying that it’s not ok, than they are if their parents say ‘It’s up to you [to decide.]”
What Should I Tell My Kids?
Figuring out what to say to your children about marijuana use can be tough, especially in an environment where cannabis is becoming a more salient part of the broader culture. Know the facts about THC, CBD and other cannabis-terms young people will hear. The most important thing is to provide a supportive environment in which your child feels comfortable talking to you about drugs and alcohol use.
McCarty recommends taking advantage of teachable moments, especially if you live in a legal state where exposure is more likely. For example, if you walk by a dispensary advertisement, see pot being used on TV or hear about it in a current song, ask your child what they’ve heard about cannabis or if they’d like to know more.
“I had this conversation with my children when we were eating dinner on my back patio and we smelled a waft of smoke from over the fence,” McCarty says. “It’s really important to acknowledge the fact that they’re going to be exposed. By high school age, they’re going to be in situations where people are using marijuana near them.”
This topic can be especially complicated if you have used, or currently use, marijuana. While your child may respect your honesty and the perspective you can offer from your own experience, you should wait until they’re old enough to listen carefully and understand that you aren’t condoning their own use. If you’re an active marijuana user, experts suggest keeping it in a place where they can’t access it, and don’t use it around your child because it sends the message that it’s okay for them to use it as well.
Marijuana is a complicated topic to bring up with your children, but it’s important to talk to them openly and honestly from a young age. As McCarty notes, “It’s better to have 100 1-minute conversations than 1 100-minute conversation.”