How To Talk to Teens About Cannabis
Be honest — and make sure you know what you’re talking about — when you’re talking with children about cannabis use.
Nobody hates talking frankly to children more than their parents — and nobody but their parents have more incentive to tell a convenient lie. You may deny it, but let’s be real: one of the “secrets” of effective parenting is the Platonic lie, the noble sacrifice of honesty for harmony. Maybe you don’t really know the right answers, maybe you’d prefer not to say, maybe it’s already 9 p.m. on a weeknight, the kitchen is still messy, and your four-year-old wants an existential treatise before bed. So you take the easy way out and make something up. These are hollow victories, won with cheap shortcuts, that ring only in the near term.
All the above applies when talking to children about cannabis. In an age when tens of millions of American adults have access to recreational marijuana — and may even keep it in their home, a home they share with children — and when there is growing acceptance (and factual data supporting it) for providing medical cannabis to children suffering from specific ailments treated with cannabis, it behooves everyone to be honest, immediately.
Remember to Educate Yourself First on Cannabis Science
If you are over 30, you should also be honest with yourself, being the victim of years of anti-cannabis propaganda told to you by parents, teachers, and other authority figures you let you down. This simple maxim — tell the truth — is Elizabeth D’Amico’s strategy for talking to children about cannabis. But we’d add one more bullet point, one for which D’Amico provides an object lesson: Find out what the truth about cannabis is for yourself before you do.
D’Amico is a clinical psychologist and a researcher at the RAND Corporation. She is also the lead author of “Planting the Seeds of Marijuana Use,” a recent study that examined the effect of medical marijuana advertising on impressionable youth. She and other researchers and found that constant bombardment with billboards and print ads gives kids the idea that cannabis is mostly safe and good.
And this is mostly true! Cannabis does appear to be a safer choice than alcohol or tobacco, according to a 2015 study published in Science Reports that included research from decades of related studies.
“If you say something is bad, that’s not giving them the full facts,” D’Amico told Westword. D’Amico is also the mother of two teens and lives in the Los Angeles area, which is both heavily populated and saturated with cannabis advertisements.
At all times, D’Amico told the newspaper, the mission of a parent around marijuana is to encourage teens to “make a healthy choice by really talking to them about all sides so they can ask questions — and when they do, be honest about it. Because if you just tell somebody, ‘Don’t do it,’ we know that doesn’t work.”
Telling the Truth Requires Discussing Cannabis’s Apparent Medical Benefits for Some Children
D’Amico demonstrates a pervasive problem that encounters both adults and teens alike when discussing cannabis use: It’s not as simple as being able to tell your children that adults can responsibly use cannabis, but children never can.
For example, D’Amico told Westword: “Yes, there are medical benefits, but they’re benefits for adults. No medical benefits have been shown for adolescents.”
This is a surprising and troubling claim for a researcher to make, unchallenged, and it is one contradicted by some scholarly evidence, as well as heaps of anecdotes.
Cannabis-derived medicines are helping many kids with seizures and with autism, just as they are helping adults — because that’s the thing. Adults and kids are both humans, with human brains and bodies. To posit that a child of 17 lacks an endocannabinoid system that then mysteriously appears when they become of voting age isn’t grounded in fact. It also contradicts what pharmaceutical companies know — but it may be what you, the parent, “know” based on your own indoctrination and conditioning.
The point is this: You may not know the answer to what your teen asks about marijuana. Be honest and admit your ignorance when it arises — and then correct it. This will require some rigorous self-examination, but it will be worth it. If you repeat an old lie, the kids always seem to find out eventually.
TELL US, have you talked with your children about cannabis?