Children and marijuana: It’s never too early for parents to start the conversation
Youth with supportive parents are less likely to use marijuana, research shows
Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by The Healthy Futures Initiative
It’s common for parents to feel trepidation about talking to their middle- or- high-school aged children about marijuana, but statistics show the subject is already familiar to children in that age range.
In Summit County, the legalization of marijuana has made the topic more important than ever, say local experts. The state of Colorado offers a plethora of educational resources for parents who are struggling with conversations about marijuana use.
“Most parents just worry about giving kids too much information,” says Kellyn Glynn, a licensed professional counselor and the program coordinator for the Healthy Futures Initiative.
Some parents worry that if their kids are asking about marijuana, that could be a sign they’re using it, Glynn adds
When a child initiates the conversation, sometimes it’s simply because they seek to understand their parents’ views on marijuana use, says Shawna Gogolen, the program supervisor for Mountain Mentors, a local mentoring program that matches adult volunteers with children and teens.
“But it’s a scary thing for parents to talk about,” she says. “Sometimes I think parents don’t want to expose their son or daughter to something too early. Some say they don’t want to talk about it if it’s not an issue yet.”
An inquiring mind isn’t necessarily a sign of previous marijuana use, nor should parents assume that the conversation could spur earlier use. Gogolen says that it’s important to make sure the conversation is age-appropriate, but sooner is always better than later. And she all but guarantees the conversation will not be the first time the child is hearing about marijuana.
Preparing for the talk
First, parents need to arm themselves with information when talking to their children about marijuana. Resources like Good to Know Colorado (goodtoknowcolorado.com) and Speak Now Colorado (www.speaknowcolorado.org) can answer some of the hard questions children might ask, especially relating to the perceived safety of marijuana since its legalization in Colorado.
Good to Know and Speak Now offer step-by-step guidance for talking to youth about marijuana. Visiting the sites will help parents start these conversations with their children, as well as understand how to listen, establish clear rules, focus on positive messages, promote self-confidence, emphasize real-world consequences and other tips. There also are tips for talking to children in specific age ranges, 9 to 13, 14 to 17 and 18 to 20.
“The education pieces of an adult brain versus an adolescent brain are important,” Glynn says. “Parents sometimes just don’t know, so they feel intimidated by the conversation. Doing the reading and the research would make them feel more confident in the conversation.”
Part of a child’s developmental process includes going against their parents or society — to do the opposite of what people are telling them to do, she says. It’s important to prepare for a defensive reaction from a child, and to walk away from the conversation if it becomes too hostile.
“If a youth feels like they’re going to get into trouble, they’ll go into defense mode,” Glynn says. “It’s the parent’s responsibility to back off a little bit.”
Backing off doesn’t mean shying away, however. Parents have to set expectations for the conversation and also stick to a plan and time to have the conversation, she says.
Also, what does the parent expect to get out of the conversation? That’s a question all parents should ask themselves, she says. Is the goal to punish the child, or is to learn more about what’s going on in their lives?
How to approach it
In the Mountain Mentors program, mentors learn a three-step method for dealing with difficult or uncomfortable conversations.
“Stop, reflect, take a deep breath,” Gogolen says. “Ask those clarifying questions — what do they already know, what are they asking — then proceed together.”
Any parent who is caught off guard by the conversation and wishes they would have responded differently can always try again, she says.
“Sometimes we’re put on the spot and don’t have the time to think it through,” she says. “Don’t be afraid to do that — if they brought it up, then they want to talk about it.”
In Gogolen’s experience, students respond to structure when expectations are clear. She encourages parents to make the rules of the house known.
“If you are caught with marijuana in the home or come home high, these are what the consequences will be,” Gogolen says.
A parent who immediately goes on the attack likely won’t get as much information out of their child, either, Glynn says. She suggests asking questions such as, ‘How have you been feeling lately,’ and ‘Is there anything you want to talk to me about?’
Another strategy Gogolen recommends is to frame questions positively, such as ‘What are the goals and dreams in your life that marijuana might get in the way of?’
Thanks to these resources, parents in Summit County can take the right steps in trying to prevent their children from using a substance that is harmful to their developing brains.
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