You are the most powerful influence in your child's life. More than friends. More than TV. More than celebrities. And that's why it's important that they hear from you about not using marijuana or alcohol and finding healthy ways to cope during difficult times.
Talking with your teen about these topics can be hard, but it's one of the most important things you can do to keep them safe and healthy. Having open conversations will ensure they know your expectations, and also how much you care about them. Create close bonds with your children by spending more time with them and doing fun things together. Try playing a game with them, like Truth or Challenge that gives you more opportunities to listen and share positive feedback with your teen. In turn, this will help your teen express their thoughts and feelings, identify these emotions, and learn how to manage them.
Below are some questions that kids and teens might ask about alcohol and marijuana. There is often more than one right answer—so see what works best for you. You can tailor your responses based on your own view and experience.
Q: Some kids at school drink or use marijuana and they seem fine. What's the big deal?
Q: What should I do if I'm at a party where people are using marijuana or alcohol?
Q: How can marijuana be harmful to me when it's used as medicine by others?
Q: If it's impossible to overdose from marijuana, why can't I use it?
Q: Did you drink or smoke marijuana when you were my age?
Q: I heard people say they drive better when they are high. Is that possible?
Q: What does the new marijuana law say?
Q: Why is it okay for you to use marijuana or drink alcohol, but not for me?
Q: I heard marijuana is not as bad if you are eating it instead of smoking it. Is that true?
Q: My friends are starting to use marijuana (or drink alcohol), but I don't want to. What should I tell them? I don't want to lose my friends.
Q: What's worse, alcohol or marijuana?
Question: Some kids at school drink or use marijuana and they seem fine. What's the big deal?
- The effects of marijuana use at your age are hard to see. Just because someone seems fine doesn't mean they aren't being affected. A person's brain is still developing into their twenties.
- The science is clear that when teens use marijuana, it can impair short term memory, motivation and the ability to learn.
- The effects of alcohol aren't always easy to see. After drinking, someone's grades might suffer or they might have a hard time sleeping at night.
- While drinking or using marijuana, teens are more likely to make poor decisions and put themselves in unsafe situations like fights, car crashes or overdosing.
- Kids who begin using alcohol or marijuana at an early age have more problems with dependence as adults.
- What your friends are doing isn't what matters. What matters is that every time a kid uses illegal drugs, it puts them at risk—in lots of ways. Using alcohol or marijuana can affect your schoolwork, get you in trouble with the law, get you kicked off a sports team, make you do unsafe or harmful things, take away your motivation, or make you feel depressed.
Question: What should I do if I'm at a party where people are using marijuana or alcohol?
- Any time you are in a situation like that, you can call me and I will come get you. If you don't want your friends to know I'm coming to get you, let's come up with a phrase that only we know. Like, “Yes Mom, I did my homework!” Let's talk about what to do if I'm not available.
- Any time someone pressures you to use alcohol or marijuana, you will need to stay strong and stay true to yourself and your choices. Let your friends know that you don't need alcohol or drugs to have fun. If you need to, you can let them know that you face serious punishment at home for using alcohol or drugs.
Question: How can marijuana be harmful to me when it's used as medicine by others?
All drugs, whether legal or illegal, have side effects. Some of the side effects for marijuana could be harmful to you because your brain and body are still developing. For someone who is very sick with an illness like cancer or epilepsy, a doctor and patient may decide the potential benefits of marijuana outweigh these risks. That doesn't mean it's safe for everyone to use.
Question: If it's impossible to overdose from marijuana, why can't I use it?
- The dosage of marijuana and its’ effects on people are unpredictable. People can overdose and experience severe side effects like anxiety, psychotic reactions or become very ill. People can also injure themselves because marijuana affects judgment, perception and coordination. Marijuana use can be especially harmful when a person drives under the influence of marijuana or combines it with other drugs.
- It is also possible to overdose from synthetic marijuana—and sometimes marijuana is laced with other drugs, especially if not from a licensed retailer. It's not easy to tell what kind of marijuana it is, especially if you did not buy it yourself. Edible marijuana in particular can be hard to use in safe doses. Using too much can be very dangerous and make you really sick.
- Much like alcohol, one of the biggest risks posed by marijuana is being too impaired to make good decisions. It can change how you think and react, which is why driving after using marijuana is dangerous. That's true for youth and adults.
- Marijuana can harm your brain, reduce your motivation, make you hallucinate, affect your ability to learn or remember information, and impair your judgment.
Question: Did you drink or use marijuana when you were my age?
- If you did I did drink and/or use marijuana before I should have. The reason I regret it is because it put me in some risky situations and impaired my judgment. And now that I'm a parent, the absolute most important thing to me is that you are safe and healthy. I'm not saying these are experiences you should never have. I just don't want you to have them while your body is still developing, or when you could get in trouble. Not everybody who drank or used drugs when I was a teen turned out okay.
- If you didn't I didn't drink or use marijuana. Even though I was curious and there was peer pressure, I knew that using drugs illegally wasn't the path I wanted to take and that they could interfere with the activities that I enjoyed. I know that you are strong enough to make good choices.
- It really doesn't matter whether ot not I did. It was a different time. It was a different situation. What we want to concentrate on is now. This is about you and my expectations, hopes, and dreams for you as your parent.
Question: I heard people say they drive better when they are high. Is that possible?
Some people believe they drive better after using marijuana because they drive slower. The fact is, they drive slower because their brains are working slower. When brains work more slowly, risk increases because reaction times slow. Marijuana doubles your risk of being in a crash. That is why law enforcement officers in Washington are trained to identify drivers who are high, and you can get a DUI for driving high.
Question: What does the marijuana law say?
- Washington State's marijuana law makes it legal for adults over the age of 21 to use marijuana. However, there are limits to how much marijuana an adult can possess.
- It's still illegal to smoke marijuana in public—just like having an open container of alcohol in public is illegal.
- It's illegal to drive while high.
- It is a felony for parents to provide marijuana to their children.
- It's illegal to take marijuana outside the state of Washington.
Question: Why is it okay for you to use marijuana or drink alcohol, but not for me?
- The law says marijuana and alcohol are legal for adults over the age of 21. That is because adult brains are more developed. The science shows that marijuana and alcohol can affect the teen brain, leading to a higher risk of addiction to these substance.
- There is a lot of evidence that shows marijuana use can be harmful to teens—including damaging their memory, motivation and ability to learn.
- At your age, the part of your brain that controls decision making and judgment is not fully developed. So, your ability to make good choices is not as strong as it will be when you are in your mid-twenties.
- Adults have more life experience and generally use alcohol and marijuana in greater moderation and in safer environments. When you are an adult, it will be legal and appropriate for you to make these same choices.
- Using alcohol or marijuana can affect your schoolwork, get you in trouble with the law, get you kicked off a sports team, make you do unsafe or harmful things, take away your motivation, or make you feel depressed.
Question: I heard marijuana is not as bad if you are eating it instead of smoking it. Is that true?
Consuming marijuana in any form can be dangerous to your health and safety. The “high” from edibles can be delayed, which makes it even harder for the user to know when they have had too much. Consuming too much marijuana could lead to overdose symptoms such as anxiety, psychotic reactions, increase blood pressure, or vomiting. People can also injure themselves because marijuana affects judgment, perception and coordination. Marijuana use can be especially harmful when a person drives under the influence of marijuana or combines it with other drugs.
Question: My friends are starting to use marijuana (or drink alcohol), but I don't want to. What should I tell them? I don't want to lose my friends.
I'm happy to hear that you don't want to use marijuana (or drink alcohol). Let's talk about some of the ways you'd be comfortable responding if you are invited or pressured to use:
- You can tell them how you feel about it. You don't need to judge them; simply explain that you don't want to use alcohol or marijuana, and if you hang out together you'd rather do activities that don't involve marijuana or alcohol.
- You can also tell them that your parents have told you there will be serious consequences if you use alcohol or marijuana.
Question: What's worse, alcohol or marijuana?
- Both drugs are harmful in different ways.
- Both of them can hurt your brain, your body and your future. Both of them can impair your judgment, and put you in risky situations. And if you take too much, they can both make you very sick.
- Mixing alcohol and marijuana can also be a dangerous combination—harming your judgment and damaging your body more than just using one alone.
- Honestly, it's not a question of which one is worse. I want you to avoid anything that can harm you – whether that's using tobacco, alcohol, marijuana or other drugs.
- Both alcohol and marijuana are illegal to consume until you are 21 years old.
Make it a two-way conversation by asking your child questions too:
- Do you have any questions about alcohol or marijuana?
- Are kids at your school using marijuana or alcohol? Are they talking about using it?
- Why do you think some people choose to use?
- What would you do if your friends asked you to use marijuana or drink with them?
- Have you ever been offered marijuana?
- If you don't feel comfortable talking to me, who else could you go to if you have questions about using marijuana or drinking alcohol?
- I noticed a lot of teen marijuana use and drinking in the movie we watched last night. What did you think about that? Do you have any questions?
- Do you know what would happen to you if you got caught using marijuana or drinking alcohol?
- Do you know that marijuana can harm you–both your health and future opportunities?
Additional information on how to talk with your kids about alcohol and marijuana can be found in the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids' Parent Talk Kit and Marijuana Talk Kit. To go beyond asking questions, check out our tips to start the conversation.