Talking to Teens About Marijuana: 9 Do's and Don'ts
The rise in 2010 was small but stood out because it registered across all three age groups sampled in the 36th annual "Monitoring the Future" survey of 46,000 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders. It also turned up at every level of use--in the last day, month, year, or ever.
Seventeen percent of 8th graders, 33 percent of 10th graders, and 43 percent of 12th graders said they'd lit up at least once in their life, about one percentage point higher in all groups than in 2009. And one in 16 12th-graders got high 20 or more times in the previous month compared with about 1 in 20 in 2009, a jump of 25 percent.
Talking with your kids about drug use is no less important than talking with them about sex--and just as difficult. To a child who likes to push the envelope, a parent who strives for cool and casual may seem to be saying that drugs aren't a big deal. Be rigid and judgmental with an adolescent, on the other hand, and chances are you'll get nowhere.
Experts have a few pointers:
"I want my message to be out ahead of the other messages they're going to be getting," Levy says. With a young child, think of the discussion as one you might have about any safety issue and be concrete, as you would when instructing a youngster to look both ways before crossing the street, says
Make your message clear
State your expectations simply and concisely. Don't leave room for confusion. Say something like, "My expectation is that you won't use drugs like marijuana. I have high standards because I know you'll meet them and do what's right."
Take advantage of "teachable moments"
They're less threatening to the child and much more productive, says Levy. Talk about the front-page story about last night's drug bust during breakfast. Listen for an applicable radio broadcast in the car, or point out a billboard advertising cigarettes or alcohol and segue into drugs. Seeing someone light up a joint in a movie or show is another great opportunity to ask what your teen thinks about it and whether it's a problem at his school.
Maintain an arsenal of facts
This may mean doing research.
Teens are often "in this impermeable, Superman adolescence where it's, 'Yeah, yeah, I know that, but I'm the exception,'" says Williams. Counter it with fact-based research--but be careful, she adds, not to let it dominate your conversation.
Tap into their vested interests
Point out to teens that using marijuana can jeopardize something they value or are working toward: a scholarship, their first-string playing time on the court, straight A's, a perfect SAT score, passing driver's ed, getting into a top college, getting a job. Take your pick.
Be honest with your kids if they ask about your drug experience, says Levy. "Now, that doesn't mean that you have to reveal everything that you did, or bare your soul," she adds. Emphasize the negative consequences, perhaps why you regret it now, or how it hurt you in some way.
Think that once is enough
"Parents often ask me, 'Well, how do you know how often you should bring these things up with your kids?'" says Levy. "And the answer is if they're not complaining that you're talking about it too much, then you're probably not talking about it enough."
Treat pot lightly
"It's only marijuana" is how some parents think, says Levy. Be careful not to condone use in any way. No reefer jokes with a friend that your teen might overhear. "Kids definitely pick up on that message," says Levy.
Underestimate your power
"The No. 1 thing that teens say--and they're not going to say this to their parents--when they're asked, 'Why are you not using drugs? What's holding you back?' They say, ''Cause my parents expect me not to use them,'" says Williams. "That's the No. 1 reason. It's still parental expectation."
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