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Marijuana and Your Teenager: Should You Be Concerned?

It's no secret that teenagers have been experimenting with marijuana for decades. Maybe you even dabbled with it yourself at that age. And as you probably know, the teenage years inherently coincide with risk-taking and experimentation.

But with increasing legalization and destigmatization efforts, this drug has become even more controversial in recent years. Research shows that approximately 37% of US high school students have tried marijuana. And while trying a drug or using it sporadically is much different than becoming addicted to it, there are significant reasons for parents to be concerned.

Understanding Marijuana and the Developing Teenage Brain

The brain isn't fully formed until age 25. Therefore, using mood-altering substances can impact the brain's development. Chronic use can cause problems with:

  • problem-solving

  • concentration and focus

  • coordination

  • problems with school and relationships

Keep in mind that researchers are still exploring the intimate relationship between drug use, impulsivity, and neuroscience. That said, the risks of chronic marijuana use in teenagers appear to outweigh any potential benefits.

How Do You Know If Your Teenager is Addicted to Marijuana?

Sometimes, it's hard to distinguish the line between recreational use and dependence. In addition, your teenager may be secretive or guarded about their habits.

Some of the key signs and symptoms of marijuana addiction include:

  • using more of the drug (and in higher amounts) than intended

  • withdrawing from relationships and hobbies to use or recover from drug use

  • experiencing intense cravings for the drug

  • using the drug despite relationship difficulties with loved ones

  • experiencing a decline in academic or athletic performance due to drug use

  • hiding, lying, or downplaying drug use

  • feeling unable to stop the drug use despite efforts of wanting to quit or cut back

Remember that addiction is not your child's fault. They are not actively choosing to struggle with drug use or cause you distress.

For these reasons, many teenagers avoid sharing their feelings because they don't want to burden others or upset their parents. Keep in mind that lying and denial are also common symptoms of addiction- the presence of them does not inherently mean your child is trying to hurt you.

How to Talk to Your Teenager About Marijuana

You can't prevent your teenager from doing (or not doing) anything. You can, however, play a valuable role in building their self-esteem and shaping how they make critical decisions. Even if these discussions feel awkward, they can have more of a positive impact than you realize.

Here are some tips to consider:

Start the conversations early: If you think your child is too young to learn about drug use, think again. Research shows that 7% of middle school students have tried marijuana, and one in twenty-five have used it in the past month. As a parent, you should aim to be on the front lines of these important conversations. Start talking about drugs in elementary school, and remember that dialogue is best when it's ongoing and open (meaning it won't be a one-time discussion).

Maintain a calm demeanor: Avoid idle threats, shouting, or criticism. Don't accuse them of being irresponsible or call their friends stupid. If your child feels attacked- even if it isn't your intention- there's a good chance they will pull away from you. Instead, model calmness and neutrality. If you feel overwhelmed during your talk, give yourself permission to take a break and regroup.

Be careful about direct lecturing: Even if you feel tempted, lecturing rarely works. If anything, it can make teenagers assume that you don't care about their needs or opinions. When that's the case, you risk them tuning you out and avoiding you telling things in the future. Instead, ask questions and be open to learning. The goal is to have collaborative and engaging conversations. If you can show that you are curious about your teenager's opinions, they will be more apt to trust you.

Continue stating and reinforcing your boundaries: Make sure that you are explicit about the limits you have about drug use. Do not apologize for having rules, and do not overcomplicate them. And, most importantly, make sure that you implement immediate and consistent consequences if needed. Failing to reinforce boundaries only sends the message that you aren't actually serious about your rules.

Acknowledge and validate your teenager's experiences: Instead of assuming you know the situation, seek to understand why your child wants or has used marijuana. You can use phrases like, I can see how that peer pressure would feel stressful, or, I hear that you were curious to see how what it felt like.

Get your child appropriate mental health support: Many teenagers experience mental health conditions like depression or anxiety. Understanding and treating these symptoms can mitigate the risk of self-medicating them with marijuana. Talk to your child about therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes that may help them feel better. Remember that it's not your job to be their therapist or doctor- instead, your job is to be open to supporting and implementing changes at home.

What If Your Child Needs More Support?

Marijuana use isn't always problematic, but it can certainly be a symptom of a deeper problem. Your child may turn to drug use to cope with poor self-esteem, social anxiety, or depression. They may also feel influenced by their peers, and saying "no" might be harder than you realize.

Regardless of the specific circumstances, we are here to support you and your family. We understand that the teenage years can sometimes feel wild and confusing. We aim to help demystify this time in your life and maintain healthy relationships despite the need for autonomy. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you!

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