Talking with Your Child About Marijuana

TALKING

WITH YOUR CHILD ABOUT MARIJUANA

Is Marijuana Really a Problem?mj1.JPG (25844 bytes)

Teen marijuana use has surged since the

start of the Nineties. Between 1992 and 1995, the number of 12- to 17-year-olds using

marijuana doubled. And the younger the age group, the greater the percentage of increase.

Each year, the University of

Michigan’s Institute for Social Research queries 50,000 high school students about

their drug habits. In 1995, 28.7% of tenth graders reported trying marijuana at least

once. In 1991, just four years earlier, that same survey found that only 16.5% had

experimented with marijuana. For eighth graders, the percentage of students trying

marijuana went from 6.2% in 1991 to 15.8% in 1995.

Teens themselves put the number of

adolescent marijuana users much higher. Typically, they estimate that three out of four

high school students have tried marijuana and that at least one teen in four is a regular

user. While these estimates have little statistical value, they indicate how teens view

their peers.

Should You be the One to Talk to

Your Child?

mj2.JPG (18909 bytes)It is clearly established that parents are in the

best position to talk with their children about drugs. While the schools have an important

role to play, they cannot do the job alone. The choice to use or refuse drugs is heavily

steeped in values. You alone are in a position to make sure your child knows what you

think is important. Teachers can provide information, but it is a parent’s job to

provide a context in which this knowledge can be applied. Parental ideas and discipline do

more to shape the views of children than any other influences in their lives.

Although many parents have no problem

talking to their children about such highly addictive drugs as cocaine or crack, they have

a difficult time discussing marijuana. This is because the case against harder drugs is

clear-cut. One would be hard-pressed to come up with an argument justifying the use of

these substances. Marijuana, however, is a different matter. For many parents, it is not

in the same category as cocaine or crack. Moreover, marijuana is something many parents

have themselves experienced.

This raises two issues. First is the

question of risk. Is marijuana all that harmful? After all, you yourself may have smoked

marijuana and are none the worse for the experience. Second, but perhaps more important,

is the question of hypocrisy. Isn’t it hypocritical to warn children against a drug

that you yourself have used?

Let’s address the second issue first.

If your approach is, “Do as I say, not as I do,” you are indeed being

hypocritical. However, if you openly discuss your experiences with your children, you are

being honest, not hypocritical. All of us have done things we regret. Offering children an

opportunity to learn from your experiences is a wonderful part of being a parent.

Moreover, seeing you in human terms makes it easier for your children to relate to you and

the message you are giving them.

Of course, you can relate just as well to

your child even if you’ve never smoked marijuana. After all, you didn’t have to

burn yourself on the stove in order to teach your toddler not to touch it.

Is Marijuana Really Harmful?mj3.JPG (21925 bytes)

Now let’s consider the issue of

marijuana’s harmfulness. If you ask most teenagers, they will tell you that marijuana

is safe to use. Though school drug education programs have been telling them since the

fourth grade that marijuana can have serious side effects, many teens believe the dangers

are greatly exaggerated. “No one has ever died from pot,” is a common teenage

rationale for using marijuana.

True, people aren’t likely to die from

an overdose of marijuana. However, marijuana is what’s known as a gateway drug. This

means that those who smoke marijuana are predisposed to go on and experiment with more

powerful and dangerous drugs. The first drug experience of most users is not likely to be

shooting up heroin or smoking crack.

In addition, teens who use marijuana are

also more likely to use alcohol and cigarettes. And the combined use of these substances

has more serious health consequences than the use of any one of these substances alone.

Moreover, marijuana itself is not the

harmless high many teens and parents think it is. For one thing, it is not the same

substance young people were smoking in the Sixties and Seventies. Today’s marijuana

is far stronger. This means that it is both more potent and has longer-lasting side

effects. Consider the following facts.

  • Marijuana impairs short-term memory and the

    ability to concentrate—abilities we all recognize as important for success in school.

  • Marijuana slows reflexes and coordination

    and also impairs the ability to judge distance, speed, and time —abilities essential

    to safe driving. Many teenagers, who would never drink and drive, think nothing of driving

    stoned.

  • Regular use of marijuana causes such

    respiratory problems as bronchitis, sore throats, and coughs.

  • Because marijuana is typically inhaled

    deeply, many experts believe it may cause more long-term damage to the lungs and heart

    than cigarettes.

  • Marijuana contains more cancer-causing

    agents than cigarettes.

  • While marijuana is not addictive in the way

    that cocaine and other more potent substances are, long-term use can lead to compelling

    dependence.

One final fact you should know is that the

age at which children first try marijuana has been dropping sharply. Thirty years ago,

many youngsters who tried marijuana did so as a symbol of rebellion and unity with the

youth movement. Today’s reasons for youthful experimentation are not much different.

Rebellion and a desire to be “cool” still prompt a good deal of marijuana use.

Thirty years ago, however, most users were in their late teens or early twenties. Today,

survey data puts the mean age of first use at barely 14 and preteen use has become

commonplace. Obviously, the younger the age of first time users, the more immature and

less capable they are of making responsible life decisions.

What to Say

Here are some

questions you might discuss with younger children:

  • What is marijuana and why is it illegal?
  • What are the side effects of marijuana?
  • What are the rules at home and school about

    marijuana use?

  • How do movies, books, and music sometimes

    show marijuana in a favorable light?

  • How can you pick supportive friends who are

    not into drug use?

For teenagers, you

might want to discuss these topics:

  • The effects of marijuana on school work,

    driving, and attitude

  • Marijuana dependence
  • How to resist peer pressure
  • How to maintain a healthy lifestyle
  • Dealing with stress without drugs

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