“But It’s Legal Now!”: How to Talk to Kids About Marijuana

What do parents say to their kids about a drug that's now legal?

Barry Lessin, MS, is a licensed psychologist who has been serving the Philadelphia region for over 40 years. In his practice, he helps youth and families avoid the harms of drug use and build stronger relationships. He’s also co-founder, along with Carol Beyer, of Families for Sensible Drug Policy, an organization dedicated to implementing innovative public health initiatives with the goal of empowering families to increase access to effective substance use disorder treatment and reduce the harmful consequences of oppressive drug policies.

I asked him to explain how we should talk to kids about marijuana, now that it’s becoming legal across the country. Here’s what he said:

“Good parenting is good parenting, regardless of what state you live in. Experimenting with risky behaviors and challenging authority is part of the reality of normal teen development.

I don’t condone cannabis use – abstinence or delayed use is the best choice for young people. In cannabis-friendly states, the challenge is greater for parents because of the culture of greater acceptance and availability.

Safety is the main priority. Be proactive by educating yourself and kids about the law and consequences for underage use in your state. The earlier you have conversations about cannabis, the better. In fact, when kids know that they can ask questions, they’re more likely to make good choices and share more openly about other kinds of issues.

Kids need us to ‘be real’ about drug use by listening to what they have to tell us about their lives and feelings. Listen well and remain positive. This doesn’t mean you’re agreeing with use, it means you’re not judgmental – and judgment always shuts down dialogue.”

Brooke Feldman, BSW, is a Certified Youth Recovery Specialist and in long-term recovery from drug problems as a youth. She shared this:

“I see it just like how we talk about tobacco or alcohol use. There are risks for young people to use any substance with a still developing brain. Through education and offering activities and young people enjoy, we can support young people to avoid using any kind of substance that can impair their brain development.”

Education, open dialogue, and parents really listening to their kids rather than preaching or judging are the keys to keeping kids safe in a world that is rapidly changing.

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