Talking with your teenager about cannabis may be hard, but because of its availability and the damage it can do to the developing brain, it’s an important conversation to have.
With 42% of adults aged 15 and over reporting they had used cannabis at some point in their life, and 11% within the past 12 months, simply telling your son or daughter “not to smoke pot” often isn’t enough to counter-balance the peer pressure many teenagers face.
Here’s our top tips for having a conversation with your teenager about cannabis:
1. Start the conversation
Don’t wait for your teenager to bring up the topic themselves, because chances are they won’t. In fact, bring the topic up way before you think they may be trying it.
2. Talk about the effects of cannabis use
Teens are attracted to the 'high' associated with cannabis use and are probably not concerned about short-term effects such as drowsiness, increased appetite and impaired co-ordination. However, they may not be aware of the long-term risks such as reduced motivation, psychological problems and damage to their still-developing adolescent brain.
3. Talk about the risks of using cannabis
Tolerance and dependence can occur with regular cannabis use, meaning you need to take more of it to get the same effect. Talk with your teenager about how the more cannabis they use, the greater the risk they'll have long-term problems. Discuss how it can impact on their future. Try to give them the facts without being judgemental. Telling them that all pot-smokers are "loser criminals who belong in jail" probably won't score you any points with your teen. Focus on the risks; keep it about them and their future.
4. Know where your children are
Be aware that kids often have access to cannabis way earlier than you might imagine. Regular sleepovers at friends’ places and weekend parties can start before high school. Make sure you know whose place your kids are going to, and think about making sleep-overs a treat rather than a weekly or fortnightly expectation for children under 16.
5. Be supportive
Peer pressure to try cannabis can continue throughout the teenage years or beyond. If you think your child is using marijuana or other forms of cannabis, such as hashish or cannabis oil, encourage honesty by not punishing them if they tell you they’re using cannabis. Try to work through the issues surrounding their cannabis use. Ask them what support they may need if they are using it to self-medicate for depression or other issues.
6. Seek professional advice
The New Zealand Alcohol Drug Helpline has in-depth information on its website about cannabis. You can also phone its free helpline 0800 787 797 if you need additional support and advice.