"Since pot is legal, are you and Dad going to buy some?"
The question from my 10-year-old followed a news report about recreational marijuana in Colorado. I knew a straightforward "no" would miss an opportunity to start an important discussion with her about drugs, about the differences between what's legal and what's safe and smart. But I could feel my anxiety building as I searched for the right response.
When it comes to talking to tweens about recreational marijuana and other drugs, experts agree the conversation should happen early and often. Parents can initiate these conversations "around age 10," says Dr. Kelly Caywood at Children's Hospital Colorado. "But if the child asks questions younger than that, start the conversation then."
What to say to our tweens, and how to frame it in ways that equip them to resist temptation, isn't always obvious. The goal is to avoid scare tactics while still sharing facts that will get kids thinking critically about why avoiding marijuana and other drugs is a smart, healthy choice.
Starting the conversation
Sometimes our kids' natural curiosity throws us headfirst into the "pot talk," as I was when marijuana was making daily headlines. Other times, kids may not know what questions to ask, or they may feel uncomfortable asking them and instead come to their own conclusions. When my daughter wanted to know if Mom and Dad would be putting weed on the next shopping list, my "no" was immediately followed by "Tell me what you've heard about marijuana."
When we ask our children what they think about drugs, whether they know anyone who's been impacted by drug use and how they would feel if a friend started using drugs, we get them thinking about and questioning their own opinions and observations. It's also important to understand your tween's motivations and life goals when you discuss reasons to "just say no."
- If your child is an athlete, present facts on the negative physical consequences of drug use, such as lessened coordination and impaired ability to focus, in addition to an increased heart rate.
- If good grades are a source of pride, share information about how drug use can affect a person's
intellectual functioning, even after the drug has worn off.
"Marijuana can contribute to an increase in depression, anxiety, panic and paranoia over time," Dr. Caywood says. "And there is evidence that marijuana can permanently decrease IQ."
- If performance through an
instrument or drama is important to your tween, explain how a person's short-term memory can be
affected and the lungs can be harmed.
In addition, kids may not understand that even where marijuana is legal, it isn't legal for them.
Addressing what is legal
Recreational use of marijuana is now legal in a number of states and the District of Columbia, and similar measures are anticipated in other states. But even in those states, the drug is illegal under federal law. And in the case of legalized marijuana — and drug-laced "edibles" — use by anyone under age 21 is both illegal and unsafe. This subject becomes an opportunity to communicate to our tweens that just because the law permits something, it doesn't mean it is healthy or helpful (1 Corinthians 6:12). We can establish clear household rules, help our tweens explore what the Bible has to say about respecting our bodies (1 Corinthians 10:31), and outline consequences for breaking household rules on drug use just as we would with other off-limits behavior.
But it's important our tweens knows they can honestly talk with us — without fear of being punished — about situations they may find themselves in where drugs are present; they need to understand that marijuana is illegal for anyone underage and that being caught with drugs can impact their future, including their ability to get into college or secure a job.
In addition, drug use impairs a person's ability to make good decisions, which can lead to behaviors that will carry their own consequences — such as sexual activity, inappropriate or hurtful interactions with peers or adults and even criminal actions such as stealing or vandalism.
Being the authority
In Middle School: The Inside Story, Cynthia Tobias and Sue Acuna share research that shows the No. 1 fear of tweens is looking foolish in front of peers. So as we teach kids to say no to marijuana use, even when it's legal for adults, we need to give them an "out" that they won't equate with humiliation. Otherwise, the need to preserve their social standing may trump health, well-being and trusting their parents.
In our house, we role-play situations where our tween might encounter a recreational drug and help her come up with possible responses — before she's in a position to need them. One easy, face-saving go-to? "No thanks, my parents will smell it on me ... and they'll kill me!"
Then consider the long term. When my daughter shares something she's heard or read about recreational drugs, I respond with "I'm curious how you got that information." This opens the door for me to talk about where she is learning about drugs and gives me an opportunity to establish myself as the authority, rather than whatever friend, website or marketing message previously captured my tween's attention. Then I honestly address her question. It is an ongoing dialogue, not a one-time conversation.