Relax Mom, it’s only pot: Talking to teens about marijuana
This fact sheet is part of the Teen talk: A survival guide for parents of teenagers series.
Second to alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used drug among youth in the United States. While use of most drugs among teens has decreased slightly, marijuana use is still a problem.
Marijuana, also called pot, cannabis, reefer, grass, weed, dope, ganja, and mary jane, looks like dried parsley with stems and/or seeds. Marijuana can be smoked, vaporized, or eaten. Paraphernalia includes rolling papers and pipes. Teens are most likely to smoke pot on the weekends, with friends, and at parties.
Pot has a number of physical effects. They include:
- Increased heart rate.
- Bloodshot eyes.
- Dry mouth and throat.
- Altered sense of time.
- Reduced short-term memory, concentration, coordination, and motivation.
As of early 2018, nine states and Washington, D.C., had legalized marijuana for recreational use by people over 21. But recreational marijuana use is still illegal in all states for youth under 21. Before legalization, about 40 percent of 8th graders and 70 percent of 10th graders reported pot was fairly easy or very easy to find. In states where it is legal, access for youth may increase.
Many parents are unaware of what their child is doing. Recent studies have shown that what parents think their children do and what their teens actually do can be quite different:
More than 40 percent of teens have tried pot, while only 18 percent of parents think it is possible their child might have tried it.
Some 62 percent of teens say they have friends who use pot. But only 21 percent of parents think their son or daughter might have friends who smoke pot.
Five times as many parents believe child drug use is a national problem than believe drug use is a problem in their child’s school. Although one-third of parents believe their teen thinks pot is harmful, fewer than 20 percent of teens actually do.
- Teenagers use drugs recreationally for the same reasons adults do: To relieve stress and relax.
- To have fun.
- To be part of the group ("everybody's doing it").
- Because being high usually feels good.
Teens often say, “I would like to try pot just once to see what it is like,” “Everyone tries drugs sometimes” and “Smoking marijuana is OK sometimes.”
Recognize that your child is being exposed to drugs and talk to him or her about the risks. Drug use is lower among kids who learn about the risks at home. The number one risk kids associate with drug use is “My parents would feel really bad if they found out I was using drugs.”
Here are tips for talking with teenagers about drugs:
- Establish a clear family position on drug use.
- Be prepared. Teens may have a lot of incorrect information they got from other kids and from the media. It’s OK to say you don’t know the answer, but be sure to find it and follow up with your teen.
- Listen carefully to their concerns and feelings, and respect their views.
- Let your teen know it's OK to act independently from the group. Be aware of how you use and talk about drugs in front of your kids. They learn by watching you.
- Discuss the difference between legal and illegal use of marijuana. Using marijuana prescribed for medical reasons is legal. But recreational use of marijuana is illegal for youth under 21.
- Seek professional help if you suspect your teen has a severe problem with marijuana.
For more ideas and information, see the Related resources below.
Telling your teenager to “just say no” won't be enough to prevent him from trying pot at a party when all his friends are getting high. Practice how to say no in different situations with your teen. Give your teenager options for saying no and let him choose which he feels the most comfortable using.
Here are alternatives to just saying no:
- Say, “I just don’t want to.”
- Suggest another activity like playing basketball or going to a movie. Or change the subject.
- Avoid situations where there might be drugs. Or hang out with friends who don’t use drugs.
- Say, “My mom won’t let me go” or “My dad would kill me if he ever caught me smoking pot.”
Remind your teen that it's OK to not try pot at a party, even if it seems like everybody else is doing it. For more tips on how to handle unsafe situations, see Keeping teens safe: The village approach.
Here are some warning signs that your teen has a problem with marijuana use:
- Getting high on a regular basis or avoiding others to get high. Lying about marijuana use.
- Giving up activities she used to enjoy such as sports or hanging out with friends.
- Wearing clothes with drugs pictured on them or reading magazines advocating drug use.
- Getting into trouble with the law.
- Feeling run down, depressed, or suicidal.
- Missing school, poor school performance, or suspension from school for a drug-related incident.
If you suspect your teen has a problem with drugs, contact your physician, school counselor, or an independent drug counselor. Also follow up on the resources listed below to get help for your teen and your family.
DrugFacts: Marijuana — National Institute on Drug Abuse — Offers facts about marijuana, including how people use it, its effects on the brain and overall health, and treatment options. English | español
Talking to Your Kids: Communicating the Risks — National Institute on Drug Abuse — Offers parents tips for talking with their children about the drug and its potential harmful effects. English | español
How to Talk about Marijuana — Partnership for Drug-Free Kids — Prepare yourself for what you’re likely to hear and find a few suggestions for how to respond.
Marijuana Anonymous — Find help to recover from marijuana addiction.
Reviewed in 2018