You”ll have better luck preventing, curtailing or moderating marijuana use if you’re proactive about starting an ongoing conversation with your children early on. But, that’s easier said than done. Don’t worry: we’ve got you covered with seven casual conversation starters you can try today.
1. “What do you think about pot and kids who use it?”
The earlier you can talk to your children about marijuana, the better, says Kelly Caywood, a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado. Simple terms and sporadic conversations work well for, say, a nine-year-old, but dialogue focus and frequency should shift as a child ages and is more likely to encounter marijuana. At every stage, enter the conversation with an open mind. You might even try embracing your child’s point of view so he knows you’re taking him seriously.
2. “If there’s marijuana at the party, what will you do?”
Ditch yes-or-no questions, and get teens and preteens thinking with open-ended, scenario-based talking points. “Especially with older kids, roleplaying works really well,” says Kimberly Thompson, children’s counselor at the Betty Ford Colorado Children’s Program. “The key,” adds Caywood, “is finding opportunities to start conversations.” Formal, family-style meetings are “awkward and uncomfortable for kids,” Caywood says. You’re better off exploiting teachable moments. Driving past a dispensary or hearing a TV character reference pot—these are natural times to ask your child about her thoughts.
3. “What’s the hardest thing you’ve dealt with this week?”
If you want to have an impact on your children’s lives, take the time to get to know them. Create an environment where your kids can share struggles and discuss feelings by consistently carving out undistracted, quality time with them. “Be engaged,” says Caywood. “Ask about their lives and their interests.”
4. “What are your dreams for the future?”
Once you know more about your child’s ambitions, do some research and suggest related activities. “Getting children engaged in team sports or youth groups can be a powerful deterrent,” says Caywood. Extracurricular activities, she says, build self-esteem while connecting kids with their peers.
5. “In our house, the rules about pot are…”
“Most kids thrive with structure and limits,” explains Caywood. Nowadays, though, parenting approaches to marijuana use range from zero tolerance to permission, and that can make it tough to discern house rules. The most important thing, says Caywood, is to be clear and consistent about your expectations.
6. “Did you know marijuana can be addictive?”
A 2013 Colorado survey of 40,000 youth found students who think marijuana is risky are less likely to use it regularly. Once you’ve done your homework, tell your children about long-term, harmful effects of marijuana in a non-demonizing way. For example, Thompson says, “Addiction is a multigenerational disease and it’s a myth that marijuana isn’t addictive.” Because teens focus on the present, Caywood also advises telling them about harmful effects marijuana use has on the brain. And, don’t neglect legal ramifications. Beyond suspension or expulsion, youth who break Colorado laws might get a Minor in Possession charge. This can lead to fines, public service, substance abuse education, loss of a driver’s license and misdemeanor or felony charges. As with alcohol, you’ve got to be 21 before marijuana is legal to use in Colorado. Recreational marijuana isn’t legal federally, which means youth with marijuana charges may not get financial aid to help pay for college.
7. “If you ever have questions about pot, I”ll always listen and answer them honestly.”
“I think a lot of parents are scared to talk to their kids about pot because they think if they talk about it kids might start using it,” says Thompson. There’s absolutely no correlation between having an open dialogue and drug use. In fact, when teens and preteens know they can ask questions, they”re more likely to make good choices. And, you”ll open the door for all kinds of topics, not just marijuana, says Caywood. The best things parents can do are listening carefully and stay positive. “Be calm and nonjudgmental,” says Caywood. “That doesn’t mean you have to agree with pot use. It just means you shouldn’t make your child feel judged.”
Read part one in this series: Parenting in a Marijuana-Legal State
Read part three in this series: What you should know about Edibles