Marijuana is one of the most widely used substances amongst teens and the concern for teen marijuana use is real. Marijuana use threatens teens ability to develop, create and maintain healthy boundaries and communication skills in relationships with peers and adults. It impedes their ability to learn how to cope with emotions and can negatively impact all areas of a teen’s life. It creates conflict and tension at home and can be really difficult to navigate as a parent.
Facts About Marijuana:
The marijuana your teen is using is not the same as it used to be. In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, marijuana had levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) – the primary psychoactive agent in marijuana that creates the high – of about 5%. In the late 2000’s, these levels increased to an average of 14%.
Today, levels range from 10% – 30% and higher. On top of that, marijuana is also being offered in a concentrated form, such as wax. These forms can have a potency level of 40% – 80%. This is astronomically higher than how potent marijuana used to be and its effects are unprecedented. Many teens are using concentrated THC as it is easier to hide, travel with, and does not produce the same smell that flower cannabis does.
Although marijuana use is on the rise for therapeutic reasons, it can often do the opposite of what people are looking for. According to the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, studies show that consistent marijuana use may actually increase symptoms of depression and anxiety and decrease dopamine levels. This makes it harder to regulate emotions and leave people feeling more depressed.
A fact that parents often like to share with their teens is how marijuana use is impacting their brain. It’s true – our brains are not fully developed until we are around 25 years old. This means that the damage that we do to our brains when we are young has long lasting effects. It most directly impacts the pre-frontal cortex, the part of our brain responsible for executive functioning. This includes decision making, emotional regulation, and the ability to learn. (For more information about THC levels, head to mjfactcheck.org)
Impact of Marijuana Use On Teens:
Most of the teens that come in my office tell me that the reason that they use marijuana is because they are struggling with thoughts of anxiety, struggling in social settings, feeling sad and lonely, struggling to go to sleep or stay asleep and/or feeling bored. They explain how marijuana helps with these struggles and why they feel attached to the substance.
Your teen is not wrong – in some ways it is giving them what they need. Once they are high they are able to forget about their problems, think about them differently, slip into a vegetative state that helps them sleep or makes activities more enjoyable.
The issue is that smoking marijuana is a temporary solution. In fact, in the long run, they only exacerbate their problems, making them worse, creating more dependency on using marijuana as way of escaping. Smoking marijuana is helping them cover up the root of their issues, not coping, dealing or understanding them. (For more information, learn about it through publications on drugabuse.gov)
7 Tips For Talking With Your Teen About Marijuana
1.Express your concern in a way that allows room for a conversation.
As a parent you may have strong beliefs about the negative effects of substance use. You may have had countless conversations with your teen explaining why it is bad, how it effects their brain and conveying your concern over and over.
This is an important conversation to have, however, when it is the response every time the issue comes up your teen starts to tune you out. They start to predict what your response might be and feel shame and guilt when discussing it with you.
In turn, this does the opposite of what you’re looking for – connecting with and supporting your kid. This doesn’t mean that you can’t express your concern about their use, but it does mean that once you have expressed your concern and discussed it in a calm way, you can ease up on this part of the conversation.
Conversations that are aren’t loaded with strong beliefs or an emotional reaction let your teen know that you are open to hearing them and decrease the risk of an argument occurring. That way your conversation is a dialogues, not a fight.
2. Ask questions to understand the reason your teen uses marijuana.
The most important part of this discussion is understanding their use and what draws them to using marijuana. Ask your teen why they like using marijuana. What does it give them? How does it support them? What do they feel are the positive experiences of using? The answers will give you much more insight about what their struggles are and why are they are using so you can better support them.
Once you have explored this, you can also ask your teen how they see their substance use negatively impacting their life. You might be surprised to learn that they have thought about this. If they know that you are willing to listen and genuinely curious, they will be much more open to thinking about this question and offering an honest answer rather than responding defensively.
3. Withhold judgment as you learn more.
If your teen is feeling judged, they will struggle to open up to you. This can be the hardest part as you love your teen and feel worried, but if you can let go of those judgements and open up a dialogue, you will all feel more connected and communication will be more open.
4. Resist the urge to lecture.
If you ask your teen about the negative impacts and they don’t have an answer, resist the urge to tell them the ways that it is. For example, instead of commenting on their slipping grades and how you believe their use is a factor, turn that statement into a question like “do you think it’s impacting you at school”? If they don’t agree, ask “Can I share what I notice”?
5. Be clear about your message.
When talking about your teen’s marijuana use, it’s important that you understand what your message is. Do you want them to be sober? Do you accept their use, but want them to only use it in recreational settings? When teens get different messages, it can be confusing to meet your expectations.
6. Set clear rules and expectations around marijuana use.
Once you have decided what your stance is on their use, you can then decide what you want your rules and expectations to look like. You might say something like “Thank you for opening up to me. I can see why you find marijuana helpful. However, in our household we just can’t tolerate marijuana use because we care about you and your future. In our home our expectation is that you don’t use substances, so if we catch you using or know that you are using, the consequence will be ____”. After that, let the consequence do the talking. If there is a big fight every time your teen uses, your teen falls further away from being understood. Know that you have done your job explaining why you think it has negative effects and calmly remind them that as discussed, there will be a consequence and leave it at that.
7. Be consistent and patient with yourself.
You might find you are having a conversation with your teen more than once. If so, that’s okay. Take a breath and repeat after me – you’re doing it just fine. The most important part is that you are consistently giving your teen the same message and consistently enforcing your rules. This is what is expected of them in the world and sets them up to be healthy adults.
Supporting your teen with substance use issues can be incredibly draining and tricky. You may feel worried that by not consistently addressing your concerns every time the topic comes up that you are sending them the message that their use is okay. If you’ve taken the steps to have a heartfelt conversation with them and then explained what the expectations, consequences and rewards look like, then your kid will hear you loud and clear.
You might not see the reward for your work right away, but with time things can change. It’s not about immediately changing their behavior, it’s about making your guidelines clear and reinforcing that message over and over again so that when they go out into the world on their own, they understand that the world also has expectations, just like at home, and that there are consequences when they don’t meet these, just like at home. Patience is key. You can do this.
Reach Out For More Support
If you’re needing more support in talking with your teen about marijuana use, we offer teen therapy and family therapy to help facilitate these conversations and empower you to apply this at home. You’re taking on an incredible task in the midst of doing the hardest job in the world. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Article written by: Molly Ward, LCSW
Molly is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works with teens, young adults, families, and couples providing support for substance use concerns, healthy body image, anxiety, depression, and ADHD.
She is trained in family systems and uses a collaborative approach to helping clients learn ways of managing life and relationship stress.
Molly joined Denver Metro Counseling in January 2019.
Denver Metro Counseling is a group of clinicians who provide therapeutic support for teens, adults, parents, and families. We help people learn to build positive relationships through identifying and building boundaries with themselves and others.
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