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Keeping Kids Away From Legalized Pot

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How do I prevent my teenagers from using marijuana now that it's been decriminalized? My state recently passed a measure decriminalizing the possession and recreational use of pot. Needless to say, this is all very disturbing for me. As a parent who is fighting hard to keep my children on the straight and narrow, I can't help feeling as if the government has undermined my authority and left me without a leg to stand on. What do I do now?

We’d suggest that you can simplify the question in your own mind by approaching it just as you would the problem of teens and alcohol. As we see it, there are three important components to this process. First, educate yourself about the effects of the drug and arm yourself with the facts concerning its harmful effects. Second, study your state’s new law and find out exactly what it says. Chances are that it doesn’t authorize unrestricted use of marijuana (for example, pot, like alcohol, is probably still off-limits to anyone under the age of twenty-one). Third, know your position as a parent. Until your kids are old enough to move out on their own, it’s still your house and your rules. It doesn’t matter what the government does or what the rest of society has to say.

Once these three elements are in place, you’ll be ready to tackle any argument your kids might throw at you. If they confront you with the objection that pot’s okay because “it’s legal now,” just point out that “legal” isn’t necessarily the same thing as “good” or “smart.” You can also remind them that while marijuana use may be legal for some people in some places, it’s still illegal as far as they are concerned; the question is a moot point until they turn twenty-one. If they want to know why it’s not good or smart to smoke pot, roll out some statistics. Let them know that cannabis is in fact a harmful, mind-altering, and addictive drug. If they want specifics, you can direct them to a Web site like that of the
Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) or the
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) where they can see images of “the brain on pot” and access basic facts about the short- and long-term effects of cannabis on the central nervous system.

If you’re a Christian family, there’s a related spiritual and emotional aspect that you will also want to consider. We’re not talking about beating anyone over the head with the Bible or laying down the law in a series of “Thou shalt not” statements. That’s an approach which is almost certain to prove counterproductive. Instead, we’re suggesting that you spend some time as a family exploring the deeper issues that drive many people to become involved with a mind-numbing substance like marijuana issues such as emotional pain, stress, and family conflict. You may also find it helpful to remember the words of Ephesians 5:18: “Be not drunk with wine, but be filled with the Spirit.” In this passage Scripture presents us with a choice. It’s not a question of Pharisaical rules and regulations, but rather of influences and control.

Once you’ve been over this ground in detail, don’t hesitate to state your principles and draw a line in the sand. Let your teens know that, as long as they remain under your roof, there can be no question of your allowing them to use marijuana. Tell them clearly and plainly that the lax attitudes of society at large have nothing to do with the standards governing life in your household. Set firm and consistent boundaries, and don’t be afraid to enforce them by imposing a series of consequences of your own for example, the loss of cell phone or driving privileges.

It is possible, of course, that the decriminalization of marijuana in your state will create a situation where your kids are exposed to the casual use of pot far more frequently than was the case in the past for example, in the home of a neighbor or friend. This will inevitably raise a number of related questions and concerns. Exactly what are the effects of second-hand marijuana smoke? How do we keep ourselves and our children safe on the highways once it becomes more common for drivers to get behind the wheel while under the influence of cannabis? It might be a good idea to consider these aspects of the issue with your kids as part of your larger discussion of marijuana use.

If you fear that your teens may already be using marijuana, we suggest you take steps either to confirm or disprove your suspicions. Short of subjecting them to a drug test, which in some extreme cases may be warranted, there are several tell-tale signs to watch for. In particular, there’s a reason pot is called “the drug of apathy.” If any of your kids have experienced a sudden drop-off in grades or seem to have lost interest in activities they used to enjoy, you should probably dig deeper and find out why. You should also keep an eye out for anti-social behavior. Marijuana impairs a person’s ability to make deep and meaningful attachments and robs him of the ability to be intimate with other people. This promotes isolation, which feeds the need to smoke pot, which strains more relationships, which causes increased interpersonal conflict with family members, friends, teachers, and co-workers. You get the picture it’s a vicious cycle. Heavy, long-term use of marijuana stunts emotional and social development, kills motivation, and prevents people from moving forward in their lives.

If you come up against problems with marijuana use in your family, we recommend that you seek professional counseling. The most successful treatment programs take a family systems approach that involves intensive evaluation and a series of counseling sessions offered in an environment of community and accountability. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to programs of this nature or a list of qualified therapists in your area who specialize in treating drug addiction. Contact our Counseling department for a free over-the-phone consultation.

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Mom Everyone Else Does!: Becoming Your Daughter’s Ally in Responding to Peer Pressure to Drink, Smoke, and Use Drugs

Practical Advice for Drug-Proofing Your Kids

Referrals
SAMHSA: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

National Institute on Drug Abuse

Articles
Kids and Substance Abuse

Talking With Your Kids About Drugs and Alcohol

The Vicious Truth About Drugs and Alcohol

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