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Parents Find Talking With Kids About Drugs Complicated by Legalization Measures


Parents are finding it more difficult to have discussions with their children about why they shouldn’t use drugs, as a growing number of states are allowing medical marijuana, or considering legalizing recreational use of the drug, the Associated Press reports.

Colorado and Washington state will vote on legalizing recreational use of marijuana for adults on November 6. Currently, 17 states have legalized medical marijuana. More than a dozen states, and many cities, no longer have criminal penalties for small-scale possession of marijuana, or have made it a low-priority crime for law enforcement.

Parent-child conversations about marijuana “have become extraordinarily complicated,” said Stephen Pasierb, President of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, a national non-profit organization helping parents and families solve the problem of teen substance abuse. Legalization and medical use of marijuana have “created a perception among kids that this is no big deal,” Pasierb said. “You need a calm, rational conversation, not yelling and screaming, and you need the discipline to listen to your child.”

Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which promotes marijuana legalization, said that since today’s parents are more likely than in the past to have tried the drug themselves, they are finding conversations with their children “are becoming a lot more real.” He told the AP, “Parents know a lot more about what they’re talking about, and kids probably suspect that their parents did this when they were younger and didn’t get in trouble with drugs. There’s still hypocrisy, but the level of honesty and frankness in the parent-child dialogue about marijuana is increasing every year.”

A survey released last month by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids suggests teen marijuana use has become a normalized behavior. Only 26 percent agree with the statement, “In my school, most teens don’t smoke marijuana,” down from 37 percent in 2008.

9 Responses to this article

  1. Avatar of Steph
    Steph / June 22, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    I really like the video on Marijuana done by National Geographic. Youth believe that they are seeing “no harm” from marijuana and seeing or experiencing positive effects (i.e. creativity). This video provides a balanced view of the effects of marijuana. Coupled with knowledge of brain development in the adolescent, I think it would give parents plenty of information for talking to their children. (The talk, of course, should be developmentally appropriate)

  2. Allan Barger / June 22, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Mr. Nadelmann’s suggestion that it is “hypocrisy” for parents to tell their children not to do something they did speaks volumes about either his political agenda, his lack of parenting expertise or both. I did a number of things as a teenager that I will absolutely forbid my children to do while they are in my care. This includes driving too fast, driving too fast when angry, sneaking cigarettes and a host of other things. Parents should not be labeled as hypocrites for having learned from their experiences and their maturity that some things are beneficial and some are not. Moreover, we know a good deal more about marijuana now than we did then. It is not as benign as your Internet would have you believe and it is not harmless. We should be setting the expectation for our children that they will not be getting high on anything, that they will learn to deal with life on life’s terms and give them the skills to do it. To suggest that parents are hypocrites for doing so, regardless of their past, is insulting.

  3. Steve Castleman / June 18, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    There are competing truths when it comes to marijuana. The first is that it’s certainly a more benign drug than alcohol. It’s not acutely toxic – people don’t overdose and die from pot like they do every day from alcohol. It’s also less addictive,

    But the second truth is that the first truth is more complicated when it comes to people under 20, whose brains are still maturing. Like all psychoactive drugs, pot over-stimulates the brain’s Limbic system, which is involved in reward, learning, memory and motivation, and among the last systems to reach full maturity in the brain, in the early 20s. Neuroscientists say that drug use can skew the way the still-growing Limbic system grows to maturity, exacerbating the risk of adverse consequences including addiction. This increased risk isn’t limited to pot. All addictive drugs manipulate the same brain systems, so it’s the cumulative use of drugs that’s important to look at, not just a single drug like pot, The more drugs one uses cumulatively, including alcohol, prescription painkillers, pot, etc., the greater the potential impact on the growth of the Limbic system, which increases the risk of addiction later in life.

    The point to make to kids – and it’s no easy feat – is that delaying drug use, all drug use including alcohol and pot, is worth the wait in terms of protecting the proper growth of the brains they will rely on all their lives.

    It will sound to teens that the message is, “Do as I say, not as I do (or did),” which most will react to negatively, at least at first. But if they understand there’s good science behind the message, that adult and teen brains are different enough that teens shouldn’t do what adults do, there’s a fighting chance of getting through to them.

    Drug education should be science-based. For a not-for-profit website that discusses the science of substance use and abuse in accessible English (how alcohol and drugs work in the brain; how addiction develops; why addiction is a chronic, progressive brain disease; what parts of the brain malfunction as a result of substance abuse; how that malfunction skews decision-making and motivation, resulting in addict behaviors; why some get addicted while others don’t; how treatment works; how well treatment works; why relapse is common; what family and friends can do; etc.) please click on

  4. Avatar of Henri
    Henri / June 18, 2012 at 3:18 pm

    I find this to be a rather interesting position, to include, with better understanding and more acceptance of alternative medicines and interventions can there be an avoidance of throwing the baby out with the bath, especially the comment about parents finding it “more difficult” to discuss drug use. I would suggest that parents claiming to struggle, would struggle regardless because they are not or choose not to prepare for that conversation. How has the issue of teaching/assisting youth to avoid alcohol abuse, analgesics (pain killers), etc… been handled since all of these drugs/medications have the same issues as marihuana. Alcohol is legal and recreational but can lead to huge problems. Opiates are used to treat pain, need a prescription, and I would believe there would be no difference in the access once legalization or medical use becomes available. I find these dialogues confusing and intriguing in that people want to mix facts with their own anxiety about drug use. I have never met a parent who said they could not wait for their kid to become a drug addict. Furthermore, in some cases the issue is too much nonfactual dialoguing about drugs or alcohol use versus how do you empower your child to make good decisions and feel good about themselves.

  5. Avatar of Saleah
    Saleah / June 18, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    How is this different than a conversation about Alcohol use?

  6. Chudley Werch, PhD / June 18, 2012 at 12:27 pm

    Parents need tools to help them communicate in a positive and effective way with their youth to promote positive behaviors and self-image attainment.

  7. Linda Cheek, MD / June 18, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    There are two messages that cannot be argued with that should make anyone think twice before using any drug.
    First, putting anything into the body for any extended period of time will put epimeres on the genes (changing the DNA). These epimeres get passed on to the next generation, creating the need for the drug. So the teen’s experimentation with drugs now can be the cause of drug addiction in their children. Even if they won’t abstain for themselves, they should have responsibility for their offspring.
    Second, the body is the temple of God, and should not be desecrated with anything. For this argument to take hold, however, we must be and act Christian ourselves and bring Christ back into our country through our lives and actions. More teens are moving away from faith. This is because faith is not a foundation in the home. All parents should make this a priority. Then teach the children to treat their bodies with the respect God deserves.

  8. Bill Crane / June 22, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    No doc, your wrong. Alternative, non-science backed medicine and faith healing is not a useful response to the issue.

  9. Avatar of Janell
    Janell / April 11, 2013 at 9:49 pm

    I agree with you Linda 100%.

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