"Since pot is legal, are you and Dad going to buy some?"

The question from my 10-year-old followed a news report about recreational marijuana. I knew a straightforward “no” would miss an opportunity to start an important discussion with her about drugs, about the differences between what's legal and what's safe and smart. But I could feel my anxiety building as I searched for the right response.

When it comes to talking to tweens about recreational marijuana and other drugs, experts agree the conversation should happen early and often. Parents can initiate these conversations “around age 10,” says Dr. Kelly Caywood at Children's Hospital Colorado. “But if the child asks questions younger than that, start the conversation then.”

What to say to our tweens, and how to frame it in ways that equip them to resist temptation, isn't always obvious. The goal is to avoid scare tactics while still sharing facts that will get kids thinking critically about why avoiding marijuana and other drugs is a smart, healthy choice.

Starting the conversation

Sometimes our kids’ natural curiosity throws us headfirst into the “pot talk,” as I was when marijuana was making daily headlines. Other times, kids may not know what questions to ask, or they may feel uncomfortable asking them and instead come to their own conclusions. When my daughter wanted to know if Mom and Dad would be putting weed on the next shopping list, my “no” was immediately followed by “Tell me what you've heard about marijuana.”

When we ask our children what they think about drugs, whether they know anyone who's been impacted by drug use and how they would feel if a friend started using drugs, we get them thinking about and questioning their own opinions and observations. It's also important to understand your tween's motivations and life goals when you discuss reasons to “just say no.”

  • If your child is an athlete, present facts on the negative physical consequences of drug use, such as lessened coordination and impaired ability to focus, in addition to an increased heart rate.

  • If good grades are a source of pride, share information about how drug use can affect a person's intellectual functioning, even after the drug has worn off.

    “Marijuana can contribute to an increase in depression, anxiety, panic and paranoia over time,” Dr. Caywood says. “And there is evidence that marijuana can permanently decrease IQ.”

  • If performance through an instrument or drama is important to your tween, explain how a person's short-term memory can be affected and the lungs can be harmed.

In addition, kids may not understand that even where marijuana is legal, it isn't legal for them.

Addressing what is legal

Recreational use of marijuana is now legal for adults in Canada. But even so, use of marijuana – and drug-laced “edibles” – is still illegal for anyone under age 18 or 19, depending on your province. This subject becomes an opportunity to communicate to our tweens that just because the law permits something, it doesn't mean it is healthy or helpful (1 Corinthians 6:12). We can establish clear household rules, help our tweens explore what the Bible has to say about respecting our bodies (1 Corinthians 10:31), and outline consequences for breaking household rules on drug use just as we would with other off-limits behaviour.

But it's important our tweens know they can honestly talk with us – without fear of being punished – about situations they may find themselves in where drugs are present; they need to understand that marijuana is illegal for anyone underage and that being caught with drugs can impact their future, including their ability to get into college or secure a job.

In addition, drug use impairs a person's ability to make good decisions, which can lead to behaviours that will carry their own consequences – such as sexual activity, inappropriate or hurtful interactions with peers or adults and even criminal actions such as stealing or vandalism.

Being the authority

In Middle School: The Inside Story, Cynthia Tobias and Sue Acuna share research that shows the No. 1 fear of tweens is looking foolish in front of peers. So as we teach kids to say no to marijuana use, even when it's legal for adults, we need to give them an “out” that they won't equate with humiliation. Otherwise, the need to preserve their social standing may trump health, well-being and trusting their parents.

In our house, we role-play situations where our tween might encounter a recreational drug and help her come up with possible responses – before she's in a position to need them. One easy, face-saving go-to? “No thanks, my parents will smell it on me . . . and they'll kill me!”

Then consider the long term. When my daughter shares something she’s heard or read about recreational drugs, I respond with “I'm curious how you got that information.” This opens the door for me to talk about where she is learning about drugs and gives me an opportunity to establish myself as the authority, rather than whatever friend, website or marketing message previously captured my tween's attention. Then I honestly address her question. It is an ongoing dialogue, not a one-time conversation.

This article first appeared in the February/March 2017 issue of Focus on the Family magazine. 

From the Focus on the Family website at Focusonthefamily.com. © 2017 Sarah Hilgendorf. All rights reserved. Used with permission. 

Additional information for parents of teens:

Teens may be ready for more facts and details about marijuana. At a minimum, they need to understand that cannabis is far from benign. In fact, cannabis

  • is addictive
  • can lead to increased anxiety and depression
  • can trigger psychotic episodes
  • is linked to diminished cognitive ability, an impact that is not always reversible
  • impairs ability to drive
  • becomes significantly more dangerous when mixed with alcohol.

For more information see the article Talking with teens about marijuana, plus helpful pointers on how to talk to your teen at Drugfreekidscanada.org.*      

* Referrals to websites not produced by Focus on the Family Canada are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the sites' content

If you liked this article and would like to go deeper, we have some helpful resources below.

Our recommended resources

Join our newsletter

Advice for every stage of life delivered straight to your inbox