How to Prevent a Child From Using Marijuana

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There is no magic bullet for preventing teenage drug use. But you can influence your kids' decisions by talking to them about the dangers of using marijuana and other drugs and by remaining actively engaged in their lives. Even after your kids enter high school, you should stay involved with their school, extracurricular activities, and social events.

Research shows that being involved and providing appropriate parental monitoring can reduce future drug use. Even adolescents who may be prone to marijuana use—such as those who are rebellious, cannot control their emotions, and experience internal distress—are influenced by active and engaged parents. Here are some tips on how you can keep your kids from using marijuana.

Have Regular Conversations

When it comes to teens, marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug, with more than 35% of 12th graders using it. And, with increased interest in vaping, experts expect the rates to continue to rise. For this reason, you need to have regular discussions with your kids about the importance of not using drugs.

Try having informal conversations during car rides or at dinner when they are more relaxed. Listen to what your kids have to say about marijuana including who they see using it at their high school.

Clearly state your opinion regarding drug use, and establish rules regarding your expectations.

Additionally, talk about ways they can say no if offered drugs as well as ways they can exit situations where drug use exists. Peer pressure is powerful and having a plan can help your kids make good choices. One option is to establish a code word that they can text to a family member letting them know they need to be picked up or need help getting out of a difficult situation.

Talk About the Risks

As marijuana continues to be legalized across the United States, many teens assume that it's safe to use. But just like any drug, including alcohol, there are risks associated with its use—especially when used recreationally.

Consequently, talk to your kids about the risks, and help them realize that just because it's legal doesn't mean it's safe for teens.

For instance, one study found that the effects on teens are significant. In the short-term, marijuana use alters judgment and can lead to increased risk taking, especially with regard to sex. Marijuana also impacts motor coordination, which increases your teen's risk of injuries especially while driving. And in high doses marijuana can cause psychosis and paranoia. In fact, there is an increased risk of psychosis disorders like schizophrenia in teens who are predisposed to these mental health issues.

Marijuana use also significantly impacts a teen's developing brain, completely altering its development and potentially leading to addiction. It also impairs short-term memory, making it difficult for teens to learn and retain information, which can lead to poor grades and increase the likelihood that they will drop out of school. Marijuana can even lead to cognitive impairment and a reduction in IQ.

Dispel the Myths

There's a lot of misinformation out there regarding marijuana—especially among teens. For this reason, it's important to dispel some of these myths. Here are a few points that are worth making to your teen.

  • Not everyone is using marijuana, even though it seems like it sometimes. In fact when asked, only 1 in 14 teens say they used marijuana in the last month.
  • Some people think marijuana is good for you because it's "natural." But not all plants are good for you—take tobacco or poison ivy for example.
  • There's a common misconception that marijuana isn't bad for you if they're legalizing it. But legalization doesn't prevent substance use disorders or addiction. In fact, 4 million people age 12 and older had a marijuana use disorder in 2016.

Stay Involved in Their Lives

The centerpiece of effective parenting is staying involved in your kids' lives. In addition to talking with them on a regular basis, spend time doing things together. Doing so, strengthens your bond and builds your connection to one another.

It's also important to support your kids throughout school. Ask about their schoolwork and provide assistance where you can. Demonstrating that you care about the things they're working on and learning, shows that you value education. In turn, they also will learn to value education.

Make sure you also attend their school functions as often as you can.

Showing your support and encouragement for something they enjoy and are good at, helps build their self-confidence and sense of self-worth.

It also provides a great opportunity for you to bond over something that is important to them.

If your kids aren't involved in school activities, encourage them to try something new or something they're interested in. Doing so, keeps them from having too much free time as well as gives them the opportunity to meet other young people with similar interests and goals.

Get to Know Their Friends

It's important to know who your kids are hanging out with. Encourage your teen to have friends over. Watch how your teen interacts with them. And, without being overbearing, try get to know them.

Although you can't necessarily pick your kids' friends, you can offer input on those you think are a good influence and those who may push boundaries. Having short conversations about your kids' friends also allows you to gauge what your teen thinks. Help them see what qualities make a good friend—like honesty, integrity, and respect.

Having solid friendships helps deter kids from using drugs like marijuana because they can support one another when being pressured to use.

You may even be influential in keeping your teen's friends from using marijuana as well. For instance, one study found that when teens have a friend whose mother is authoritative, they are 43% less likely to use marijuana than a teen whose friend's mother is neglectful.

Establish Rules and Limits

Every parent should have a few non-negotiable rules about their child's behavior, which are not only stated clearly but enforced consistently. Doing so, helps solidify the fact that you care about where they're going and what they're doing. Here are a few examples of rules you can implement with your teens:

  • "Keep your cell phone fully charged with the locations service activated while you are out." In other words, you can track your child's phone at any time while they are out using a service like Find My iPhone or Life 360.
  • "Provide me with the address of where you will be." If the cell phone dies, you still know where to find them.
  • "Give me at least 24-hours notice before asking to spend the night with a friend, go to a party, or attend a special event." This rule gives you time to check out the situation and talk to other parents.
  • "Attend only parties or sleepovers when there is parental supervision." You may want to confirm that the parents will in fact be there.
  • "Refrain from having people over when I am not home."
  • "Use your code word or use me as an excuse if you need me to pick you up." Encourage your kids to blame you or use you as an excuse when they want to leave a party early. It's much easier to complain that they have an overprotective parent than it is to try to argue against peer pressure.

Research indicates that parents are most effective with setting limits when they check to make sure their teens are doing what they say they are doing.

Teens also are more likely to adhere to their family's rules when they know their parents will enforce consequences consistently.

For this reason, always provide a consequence when a rule is broken. Meanwhile, reinforce their good choices by praising them when they do what they are supposed to do.

Participate in Prevention Programs

Get involved in drug abuse prevention programs in your community or your child's school. Look for programs you and your children can participate in together.

For instance, there are many Drug Free Clubs of America in local high schools. These programs provide a way for kids to stay drug-free. Kids agree not to use drugs and—with a parent's permission—are held accountable by random drug tests. Being part of the program also gives kids a built-in excuse for not experimenting with drugs when pressured by their peers. After all, they never know when they will be drug tested again.

There are numerous other resources—many right in your own community—where you can gather information about preventing drug use. To find these resources, consult your local library, school, or community service organization.

If your teen is struggling with marijuana use or addiction, you also can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

More Tips for Parents

Here are some additional things you can do to prevent your kids from using marijuana or developing a substance abuse issue.

Evaluate Your Parenting Style: Take a look at different parenting "styles" and determine if you need to make changes. For instance, some parenting styles—like being a permissive parent—can increase the chances that your teen will experiment with marijuana.

Begin the Conversation Early: Research has shown that if your children feel they can talk with you about their problems, and you respect their feelings and opinions, they will be less likely to turn to drugs.

Be a Good Role Model: The best way to prevent your teen from using marijuana is to refrain from using it yourself—especially in front of your children.

In fact, research suggests that kids with parents who abuse drugs or alcohol are two to nine times more likely to become substance abusers as teens or adults.

Sit Down Together at the Dinner Table: The number of times you sit down with your children for family meals is directly correlated with a decreased chance they will engage in substance abuse, research has found. Likewise, eating regularly as a family also improves mental health, self-esteem, and grade point average.

Take Your Kids to Church: Several scientific studies have found that teens involved in religious activities are less likely to use drugs or have substance abuse problems —even if they have a family history of alcoholism.

A Word From Verywell

Ideally, from a young age, you are talking to your kids about marijuana and explaining why they shouldn't use it. But, if you're just now getting started, don't worry. It's never too late for a well-timed and intentional conversation about the importance of not using marijuana. With patience and persistence, you will be able to communicate the pitfalls to your kids and help prevent them from experimenting.

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