If you’re of a certain age (looking at you, Gen X, Millennials, and 90’s Gen Z), then you probably have very vivid memories of being inundated with anti-drug campaigns in virtually all walks of life. D.A.R.E. commercials and ads, Red Ribbon Week in school, reefer-madness story lines worked into the plots of all your favorite tv shows…all of the messaging was centered around marijuana use. Over the decades, as public perception and the legalities of weed have evolved, so has the way we talk to our kids about it. With marijuana legalization on the rise and cannabis, in general, becoming more socially acceptable by the day, we do our kids a major disservice by parroting the same ol’ ‘Just Say No’ lines. There’s nuance in how we talk to kids about drugs now, and it’s in their best interest to shift how (and when) those convos happen.
When to Talk to Your Kids About Weed
This one is really important, because a lot of parents probably think that convos around stuff like drugs and sex can wait until their kid is ‘older’. But in reality, and in the interest of safety, education and informed consent, we should be talking to our kids about weed and other matters from a very young age! Age-appropriately, of course. ‘But won’t talking to my kids about weed make them want to try it?!’ Actually, no. All it does is give them accurate and appropriate information, which they will 100% need as they get older and are exposed to it (inside or outside of the home). There are so many ‘adult’ things that we need to talk to our kids about from a very young age, to keep them safe and protected. Do you drink? Then you probably have talked to your kids about alcohol. Do you have pets in the house? Then surely you’ve talked to them about being safe and kind with and around the animals. The same is true with weed – particularly if you use and keep it in the home.
How to Talk to Your Kids About Weed
This is where things get a bit tricker! Marijuana is legal for recreational use in 21 states and has been decriminalized in 10 states (and counting). The same old ‘illegal drugs’ talk just won’t cut it anymore. And spoiler alert: you can’t talk your kids out of something or scare them away from it just by saying it’s against the law. If that was the case, then underage drinking would be nonexistent. The fact of the matter is, using weed is on par with consuming alcohol or smoking cigarettes, from a legal perspective, in many states. There are age restrictions on use and purchase, there are laws around using it in some settings (like driving or in public, for example), and there are still legal ramifications for misuse or violating current law. Because we, as a society, are working to destigmatize marijuana, the way we talk to our kids about it should follow the same logic.
The direction your conversations go in will certainly be influenced by whether or you or your partner are weed users. You’re likely not going to demonize something that you consume or have in the house, you know? Even if you don’t tell your kids you use weed, chances are they will find out at some point, in which case you’d be setting yourself up for undoing some pretty hypocritical information and potentially damaging their trust in you. So treating weed the same way you do other substances or activities (like alcohol, or sex) is a good tactic. Explain that it is a substance that some adults use for lots of different reasons, and like any substance, it requires the user to be responsible and informed. Talk about the age restrictions and legal parameters around weed. And most importantly, talk about what to do when your kids have their first encounter with it (because they will, and probably at an earlier age than you think). Talk to them about consent and peer pressure and how to navigate situations where their peers are experimenting with weed; equip them with the tools needed to feel confident in handling those situations on their own.
Honesty is the Best Policy
It’s inevitable: one of the first things your kids will ask you at the start of these weed talks is whether or not you’ve used yourself. And while we understand the desire to deny, deny, deny and maintain your status as a sainted parent, we strongly encourage you to take a more honest and realistic approach. You don’t have to hash out all the fuzzy details, some things are better left unsaid. But your personal experiences with cannabis can go a loooooong way toward helping your kids develop their own (well-informed) opinions about it. And if you’re honest with them, they are so much more likely to be honest with you. By sharing your experiences, opinions, and perceptions of weed with them, you are creating a safe space where they can freely and openly participate in the conversation.
Do we want our kids to grow up and smoke weed or start experimenting as tweens and teens? Most parents will probably say no! But do we want our kids to be well-informed, confident, and have a deep understanding of how to navigate this particular topic as they grow up and are faced with it in peer groups and without you there to help them? Absolutely. Talking to them about weed isn’t going to make them use it. However, not talking to them about it can potentially put them in a situation they are not equipped to handle, a situation where poor or unsafe decisions are made for lack of knowledge and understanding.