Is 10 Too Young to Talk About Adolescent Marijuana Use?
When is the right time to begin conversations with your children about marijuana use? Most experts agree that education about issues like alcohol and drug use is most effective if it begins at least two years before the child is likely to be exposed to the behavior in a peer setting. Anecdotal evidence tells us that most adolescents will have their first exposure to marijuana use between the fifth- and sixth-grade years, when they are about 12 years old, which means conversations about marijuana should start no later than when they are 10 years old. Let’s face it, 10-year old kids already have unprecedented access to information at their finger tips, so as parents, it’s critical to help them navigate the mixed messages they are already exposed to. Because of the legalization of marijuana in many parts of the country, there has been a significant reduction in youth and adolescent perception of harm regarding the dangers of adolescent marijuana use. This makes it all the more important to start conversations early.
You may be wondering how to initiate a conversation with your 10-year-old about the risks of youth and adolescent marijuana use. A great deal of new and evolving information surrounds the changing culture of marijuana, making parents feel that such conversations are a daunting task. As a parent I can relate to how difficult it can be to get the conversation going.
Here few tips that I have found to be successful in talking to 10-year-olds about marijuana.
Start at the top. The brain!
Helping children understand the importance of their brain and how their decisions can affect it is often the first step in empowering them to make healthy choices. Most likely your children have already learned a good amount of information about their body and brain at school and have heard about how their decisions can affect it. Many elementary school programs talk about the effects of sugar, energy drinks, tobacco, alcohol, and drugs in general. Expand on that foundational information by talking about the importance of your child’s brain in growth, development, learning, happiness, and the ability to accomplish everyday activities like riding their bike or playing with friends. You don’t have to be a neurologist to talk about all the amazing things their brain can do. Keep the information simple and use your own words for an effective approach. Go online and search for images of brains. The photos of squishy pink brains create interest coupled with a nice “ewww” factor.
Ask your child what they know or what they have heard specifically about marijuana.
This opens the door for conversation, gives you some insight into what they might be hearing from peers or media, and provides an opportunity to share the facts with them.
Provide solid research-based information about the effects of marijuana use on the developing brain.
Utilize your own research and school programs or refer to MEI’s elementary curriculum. The curriculum is designed for teachers but can easily be used as a resource for parents.
Be clear about your rules and expectations in regard to marijuana use.
Children need parents to have rules and expectations, particularly related to substance use. Setting clear boundaries at a young age creates a solid foundation for moving forward into the adolescent years.
Now that you have built your foundation, keep the dialogue going.
Talking about the risks associated with adolescent marijuana use is not a one-time conversation. Discussions about risks, rules, and expectations should be ongoing as your child ages.
As marijuana legalization moves forward in many parts of the country, it is important that parents and schools begin conversations about it early so that youth are empowered with the information they need to make informed decisions. Research shows again and again that parents have the greatest influence in a child’s life. Many believe this powerful influence supersedes that of peers and even social media. Having a relationship with your kids in which they feel comfortable talking to you about difficult topics is crucial in parenting. If you start the conversation with you children when they are young, before tight peer groups form, your children will be more likely to come to you with questions and concerns as they navigate adolescence
After working as a criminal and family law paralegal for many years, Sarah decided to follow her passion and pursue a career in education. She returned to college and earned a BA in education with an endorsement in K–12 special education. Sarah later earned additional endorsements in language arts and health. She has worked with special education students in middle school and high school and worked as a general education language arts and health teacher at an alternative high school. Her work at the alternative education campus led Sarah to co-found the Marijuana Education Initiative with Molly Lotz. Together, she and Molly work with specialists and professionals in diverse fields to create unbiased, reality-based marijuana prevention and intervention curricula as well as alternative-to-suspension programming, parent information guides, and online learning modules. Sarah couples her experience in the classroom with her knowledge in youth-specific marijuana prevention efforts to successfully work with educators, communities, legislators, state agencies, and industry leaders across the country to ensure educational practices keep pace with changing norms.