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Should Parents Tell Kids About Their Past Cannabis Use?

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Talking about cannabis with your teens can be unnerving, especially if you’re a past or present cannabis user yourself. If your child asks, should you disclose your own experience with cannabis to them? Will honesty hurt or help this conversation?

Cannabis is now legal for adult use in 21 states and decriminalized in another 10, but it still poses a variety of dangers for teens and adolescents. It’s crucial to talk openly about cannabis with your kids before they ever have the chance to try it. Bringing your own experiences to the table can help to strengthen your message—as long as you know what to say and how to say it.

Send the Right Message

If you do tell your child about your past or present cannabis use, context is everything. By sharing your personal experience, your goal should be to create a connection—but as a parent, not as a friend. In other words, don’t try to show them that you were once young and fun; just that you’ve faced similar choices in your own life. This can help kids tune into what you’re saying.

Stick to these guidelines during the conversation:

  • Keep it simple and avoid going into unnecessary detail.
  • Don’t glamorize your experience. Instead, talk about the reasons you used cannabis (such as peer pressure), as well as any negative consequences you dealt with, and reasons why you quit.
  • Try not to discuss cannabis use in a way that normalizes it (at any age). Although it’s the most commonly used drug in the U.S., the truth is that less than 20% of Americans use cannabis.

What Else to Say

Telling your child that you have used cannabis while telling them not to may feel a bit hypocritical, but it’s the smart and safe thing to do. To emphasize what makes your situations different, keep these key points in mind:

  • Cannabis is stronger today than ever before. In the 1990s, THC levels topped out at 2-4%. Today, average THC levels are over 15%, making cannabis much more potent—and much more dangerous. Because of these high THC levels, today’s teens will have a different experience than your generation did, with effects that are often intense and potentially scary. Its high potency also makes today’s cannabis more addictive.
  • Cannabis impacts developing brains in significant ways. Because the brain continues developing until about age 25, teens and adolescents who use cannabis may face repercussions that last a lifetime. Important areas of the brain can be reduced in volume, resulting in permanently decreased capacity for attention and memory. Fully developed adult brains, however, face a lower level of risk.
  • Cannabis is illegal to use before age 21. The bottom line: just like alcohol, responsible cannabis use is legal for adults, but it’s illegal for teens and adolescents. Emphasize that your child risks not only punishment at home, but legal consequences as well.

What to Say If You Don’t Want to Tell

You might decide that telling your child about your own cannabis use won’t be useful or appropriate in your situation, and that’s okay. There are plenty of ways to discuss this topic without volunteering your personal history with it.

However, kids are naturally curious, so when the topic arises, be prepared for your child to ask you about it outright. If you already know how you want to respond, you can remain calm and collected in the moment. Practice explaining that you’re not ready to talk about it yet by writing out your response or role-playing the scenario with your partner or a friend.

Keep the Conversation in Perspective

Ultimately, the decision to discuss your past or present cannabis use is yours alone—but try not to stress about it. Remember, this isn’t the only factor that will determine whether (or when) your child tries cannabis; it’s simply one facet of the larger conversation you’ll want to have about substance use.

And whatever you decide to say, your actions will always speak louder than your words:

  • Focus on building a strong, positive relationship with your child.
  • Maintain an open line of communication so that your child can always come to you with questions.
  • Don’t use cannabis in front of your child. Show them that you can relax and enjoy yourself without substance use.
  • If you do keep cannabis in the house, always store it safely and discreetly in a locked container.

In any case, you’ll feel more confident if you’re prepared for the conversation. So get the facts first—you’ll find information about underage cannabis use, tips for talking with your child, and further resources on SERAC’s 21 for a Reason: Cannabis page.

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