Parenting in the age of Marijuana legalization

Written by Michael J Wilson

We can no longer deny that Marijuana is readily available to our youth, and that its use has been recreationally “normalized” over the past decade. There was a time, not too long ago, where the argument about how, “it is illegal, and that is why you shouldn’t use it”, was widely used and accepted by a majority of parents and teenagers. This is no longer the case.

So, now what? What do you say as a parent to your teenage children? How do you argue that it is dangerous and shouldn’t be used when so many people, adults included, are openly enjoying it recreationally? How do you talk to your kids about it?

When I was an eager teenager day dreaming about the day when I would be able to get my license, I looked to my parents to help guide me through the process, and prepare me, even though I thought I knew what I was doing already before I ever even touched a gas pedal.

They knew what it would take from their years of experience, and just how dangerous it would be for me to get behind the wheel without knowing how to drive responsibly. So, they took the time to talk to me about it, and to teach me how to become a responsible driver. I picked up my own bad habits along the way, but the parental support was necessary at the time.

By letting me practice driving with them, they were able to help me understand just how powerful a vehicle was and how responsible I would need to be to stay safe. That even if I was being a good, responsible driver, there were still many bad drivers out there, so I needed to stay vigilant and protect myself. Trying to get your license without this support makes for some really bad or dangerous drivers.

We all know a couple people who shouldn’t be behind the wheel, don’t we?

Watching my children grow up in this new world, I have had to deconstruct my opinions, beliefs, and personal experiences about marijuana and what it means to them instead of just what it meant to me. I am in no way promoting teen marijuana use as acceptable, but I am no longer going to pretend that it isn’t a real thing to them, or that we shouldn’t find a way to help teach them how to use it responsibly if they choose to use it. How can we expect them to just know how to use it responsibly with no parental discussion and support with only the guidance of their social network or the internet??

Now, talking openly about marijuana use with your kids may seem crazy to you. It may sound like if you do, that somehow you would be condoning it. That if you don’t actively push against it and promote all of the scary dangers of use, that you will be “one of those parents” and lose your child to substance use.

What I would say to that, is if you would want to make sure that your child learns from you or an accredited driving school before getting behind the wheel, then why would you trust their knowledge and experience with marijuana use to a bunch of other ill-informed high school kids or the internet.

When I think back to how my parents and many others have approached this, I am confused by how the idea of a prohibitionary approach, willful ignorance, or turning a blind eye, seemed like good ideas when dealing with a teenager using a mind-altering substance. I didn’t know what I was doing, or what I was getting into, and the need to hide that part of my life drove a huge wedge between me and the very people I trusted to advise me on all other aspects of adulthood. In hindsight, this makes no real sense to me.

Now, the question – To talk or not to talk? We teach and talk to our children about everything that we can, from how to go potty, to driving a car, even applying for college or jobs, all of which are huge milestones in growing up. But for some reason when it comes to drugs and alcohol, we get shy and the conversation gets fractured or is non-existent.

So, what does a conversation look like with a teenager who is using marijuana? Well, the normal conversation is to vilify marijuana (basically their best friend), and say that they shouldn’t use it anymore for all of the available reasons about why it is bad for them. If you have ever tried to break a group of troublesome friends up, or get between a teenage relationship, then you know that you will in fact just be pushing them closer together, and most likely inspiring them to climb out of windows and sneak around to see each other. So, this seems like a bad idea for a “conversation”.

Another version of that same prohibitive conversation might include the fact that “not everyone does it”, and they should be more focused on their future rather than having fun with their friends right now. Well, this conversation requires that teenagers be capable of a level of forward thinking that may just not be available to them at the time. I am always inspired when I see that one forward thinking teenager who has a job and is saving money for the future, without their parents requiring it of them, but that is somewhat rare nowadays.

I have heard it said, “that if you can clearly identify the problem, then you have also uncovered the solution to that same problem”, well I believe that applies here as well. If we can identify the types of conversations that haven’t worked well, and we can see this as more than just recreational pot use for our children, we can begin to address it and discuss it with them properly.

It is in fact more of an intimate relationship to them. It is a multipurpose tool that they use for social status, social interaction, as well as a private easy-to-use medication that provides relief from a world that they have yet to get control of, a best friend, even a significant other if you will. So how do you talk to a child about a bad relationship? How do you talk to a child about their lack of control around feelings and social situations?

Well, this is this the trick. You have to see it for what it is first, and not just a bad decision that your child has made that requires another calculated punishment, or more scary information that you found on the internet about what continued use will do to them later in life.

They are dealing with the right now; they are feeling alone and disconnected, and they need their parents now more than ever to guide them and talk to them. They need someone who can talk to them about what they are doing both individually and socially, someone who will hear all the details without reaction, but with an open ear listening and providing a sounding board for their life experience. Without this connection, you will be reinforcing the growing divide between you and your child, and the growing feeling of “losing them” will get worse as you continue to squeeze them using an archaic and outdated prohibitive approach toward parenting through SUD.

So, what’s the takeaway? Be in your child’s life, even if you don’t like what they are doing. You are more likely to spark a significant conversation about change if they are willing to talk to you about something so significant as marijuana use if they know you aren’t going to react and that you will be there to talk to them and teach them if they have any questions.

They are going to do it anyway if the decision has been made. The question is, whether or not you will be part of the equation, or if you will be the cops while they play the robbers in a game of catch me if you can, the fractured family version of the game.

Don’t be the police, be their parents. Don’t be the opposition be the support system. They are lost in a world full of expectations and emotions that they don’t know how to navigate. Marijuana may seem like the best option for some of them, but that shouldn’t be seen as the problem, just a child’s solution to a problem that you aren’t aware of or openly talking about.

If I can leave you with one thing, it’s that “you need to learn how to have the uncomfortable conversations about the uncomfortable things that your children are doing, if you want to help them through the uncomfortable situations they are going through and be the parents that they need”.

There is no easy way to do this, so we should stop farming this job out to people our children might not trust or respect as much as us.

You can do it!! Talk to them, even if it’s uncomfortable!!

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