The struggle is real!!!!! This is a popular meme and a joking term that my girls and I often use to make light of our frequent mishaps. This morning, in fact, we were running late for school, I was hurriedly trying to make my coffee, my youngest daughter could not find her shoes, and my oldest daughter was rushing to finish a school project before we walked out the door. We jumped in the car a disheveled morning mess, at which point I laughed and said, “The struggle is real!”
But for adolescents today the struggle is real, and it is no joking matter. Teens are grappling to navigate a world far more complicated than the world of my youth. Media, social media, academic pressures, and changing social norms elevate the “struggle”of adolescence. One struggle, that as an educator in Colorado I am very familiar with, is the mixed messages associated with marijuana legalization. Let me state once again that I am agnostic about marijuana legalization and about adult recreational use; however, at MEI we believe that we owe it to our youth to provide research-based, marijuana-specific curricula so that they can make informed decisions.
Many teens today DON’T think marijuana is at all harmful for them. We hear over and over, “it’s natural,”“it’s medicine,”“it’s legal, so I can’t be bad.”
The perception of harm with regard to adolescent marijuana use is concerningly low.
When I talk with adolescents about today’s marijuana, it becomes apparent that teenagers are receiving a lot of misinformation and confusing mixed messages about marijuana. Today’s teen has come of age during the push for marijuana legalization. They have seen reports on the news and articles in the paper discussing the issue. They have been hearing and seeing messages and pro-legalization ads that were intended to influence adult votes, not adolescents’ beliefs.
The promotion of marijuana as being natural, a medicine, and a safer choice was intended for adults, but the youth of today have taken those messages to heart. Adolescents also lack a solid understanding of the differences between recreational use and true medicinal uses.
Without a post legalization, marijuana-specific curriculum, adolescents do not have access to the information necessary to understand that these messages are not relevant to them and that the developing teenage brain is particularly vulnerable to adverse effects of marijuana use. The still-developing adolescent brain differs from the brain of a fully developed adult, and therefore the effects of marijuana on the adolescent brain greatly differ from adult outcomes as well.
So, how do we help our teens with this very real struggle?
- Be empathetic. The struggle is real for teens. Today’s adolescent faces far more stresses than previous generations, and they don’t always have the maturity and life experience to understand the long-term impacts of their decisions. It takes a lot of courage to not just follow the crowd.
- Teach the facts. Empower teens with information. When adolescents know the facts about their own brain development and how recreational marijuana use can affect their brains, they can make informed decisions.
- Keep the conversation going. Adolescence is a time of testing limits, pushing boundaries, and seeking independence. Just because a teen might have made a decision that you don’t support does not mean that the conversation is over. Continuous and open conversations ensure that adolescents have a clear understanding of expectations and boundaries.
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.