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Now Is the Right Time!
As a parent or someone in a parenting role, you play an essential role in your child’s/teen’s success. There are intentional ways to grow a healthy parent-child/teen relationship, and creating rules about marijuana helps establish the supportive conditions necessary for your child/teen to deal with risk.
In Montana and the United States, rates of marijuana use among high school students have remained unchanged with about one in five students having consumed marijuana in the past month.1 Marijuana use by youth has been linked to negative mental health effects including depression.2 Children/teens ages 11-14 will be introduced to greater risk-taking opportunities whether that involves alcohol, drugs, or risky sexual behaviors.
Parents can face challenges in establishing rules about marijuana. “Why can’t I go to the (unsupervised) party?” you may hear from your child/teen. As children/teens are increasingly influenced by their peers, power struggles can occur when they are eager to do what their friends do regardless of the risks involved. Your child/teen needs your involvement in establishing clear boundaries and providing monitoring and support to navigate peer pressure successfully.
The key to many parenting challenges, like establishing rules about marijuana, is finding ways to communicate so that both your needs and your child’s/teen’s needs are met. The steps below include specific, practical strategies along with effective conversation starters to prepare you.
Why Rules About Marijuana?
Whether it’s discovering your curious twelve-year-old is reading about marijuana online or arguing over your fourteen-year-old attending a friend’s unsupervised party, establishing rules about marijuana can help your family prepare for dealing with challenges cooperatively while building essential skills in your child/teen.
Today, in the short term, establishing rules about marijuana can
- help to manage your own stress through your child’s/teen’s many changes,
- help your child/teen better manage the stress that comes with this age,
- cultivate a more trusting relationship, and
- help you feel confident that you’ve prepared your child/teen to stay safe.
Tomorrow, in the long term, your child/teen
- builds their capacity to assert boundaries and establish healthy relationships that will serve them for a lifetime,
- strengthens their self-control, and
- cultivates healthy habits that will contribute to their ongoing emotional and mental wellbeing.
This five-step process helps you and your child/teen establish rules about marijuana. It also builds important skills in your child/teen. The same process can be used to address other parenting issues as well (learn more about the process).
These steps are done best when you and your child/teen are not tired or in a rush.
Step 1. Get Your Child/Teen Thinking by Getting Their Input
You can get your child/teen thinking about establishing rules about marijuana by asking them open-ended questions. You’ll help prompt your child’s/teen’s thinking. You’ll also begin to better understand their thoughts, feelings, and challenges related to friends and peer pressure so that you can address them. In gaining input, your child/teen
- has a greater stake in anything they’ve designed themselves (and with that sense of ownership also comes a greater responsibility for following the rules established),
- has more motivation to work together and cooperate because of their sense of ownership,
- will be working in collaboration with you on making informed decisions (understanding the reasons behind those decisions), and
- will grow problem-solving skills.
- Ask questions and listen carefully to your child’s/teen’s responses. Pick a time when you and your child/teen are enjoying time together. Driving in the car is an ideal time (when you don’t have a time pressure) since your child/teen will feel less “on the spot” when you are not looking directly at them. You might ask:
- “What are your hopes for your friendships?” Find out what your child/teen is longing for in their friendships. You may learn a lot about what motivates them. Then, when you discuss their friends, you know exactly what their aspirations are for their friendships, and you can help them work toward those healthy goals.
- “What are you and your friends most interested in trying that’s new and different?” Listen for interests and ideas your child/teen might have for trying out healthy risks like entering an art contest or climbing a rock wall. If you observe your child/teen taking a new interest, create opportunities to experience those risks in safe ways.
- “Where do you like to hang out with your friends?” Listen to where your child/teen likes to see friends. Are there places to hang out socially that are desirable for your child/teen and their friends? Are they in supervised or public locations? Teens, especially, need spaces and places where they can be social because if they don’t have them, they’ll create them. Offer opportunities for healthy hangouts.
- “Does marijuana show up at gatherings with friends, and how do you feel about it?” Because it’s a sensitive issue, just ask, but don’t pressure for an answer. Your child/teen may come back to you at a later moment to discuss.
Step 2. Teach New Skills by Interactive Modeling
Have had a specific conversation about the role of marijuana. Your child/teen may be well aware that underage use of marijuana is illegal, but the “whys” of the laws are important for them to understand as they formulate their own sense of values.
Knowing what the laws are can help provide a starting point for discussion. Laws are rules society agrees are the basics for civility and health. That does not mean that they provide the added values needed to make smart choices. For that, families need to discuss the facts and also what they believe to be right for their family. The law in Montana states that:3,4
- It is illegal for someone under the age of 21 to possess or consume marijuana unless they are a medical marijuana cardholder.
- For registered cardholders, it is illegal to exceed the possession limit of 1 ounce of usable marijuana. It is also illegal to exceed the purchase limit. (The default purchase limit is 1 ounce of marijuana flower per day and 5 ounces of flower per month or the equivalent amounts of THC if purchasing edibles, topicals, or other products.)
- It is illegal for someone under the age of 18 to possess or obtain marijuana, even for medical reasons, without parental consent. Individuals 18-20 years old do not need parental consent to apply for a medical marijuana card.
- It is illegal for anyone to operate a motor vehicle when impaired by marijuana.
Teaching is different than just telling. Teaching builds basic skills, grows problem-solving abilities, and sets your child/teen up for success. Teaching also involves modeling and practicing the positive behaviors you want to see, promoting skills, and preventing problems. This is also an opportunity to establish meaningful, logical consequences for when expectations are not met.
- Learn together. Marijuana impacts a child’s/teen’s growing body and brain differently than adults. Talk about the following information.
- Researchers are finding that childhood and the teen years are a particularly vulnerable time for brain development and the adverse effects of marijuana. Because children/teens are undergoing a major brain reconstruction from learning from play to the more logical thinking required of the adult years, these changes paired with marijuana use can get in the way of normal brain development.
- Marijuana use has been linked to other substance use and the development of substance use disorders.5
- Discuss values for family health and healthy development. Consider discussing the following questions:
- “What do we do to keep healthy (diet, exercise, preventative doctor visits)?”
- “How do food and drinks fit into keeping your body healthy?”
- “Do you take medication? For what and why?”
- “What are the many substances that alter your body and brain?”
- “How do those altering substances fit into a healthy lifestyle?”
- Considering your child’s/teen’s hopes for their friendships and the impact of marijuana on healthy development, engage your child/teen in a discussion about setting up rules about marijuana. You could ask, “What might be some helpful rules we can stick to as a family?” Examples could include:
- Family members will share an address or specific location where each person will be every time they go out for the evening.
- Go to all evening functions with a buddy for safety.
- Always have an escape/excuse plan (with your buddy and with your parents) ready if marijuana, alcohol, or other substances are present.
- If called or texted for a ride, parents will appreciate the chance to offer a safe ride and will provide that ride without asking questions or issuing consequences.
Step 3. Practice to Grow Skills and Develop Habits
Your family and child’s/teen’s social life can offer regular opportunities for your child/teen to practice new skills and try out your family rules if you seize those chances. With practice, your child/teen will improve over time as you give them the chance with support. Practice grows vital new brain connections that strengthen (and eventually form habits) each time your child/teen tries out the rules and plans you have created together.
Practice also provides important opportunities to grow self-efficacy — a child’s/teen’s sense that they can do a task successfully, which includes standing up to peer pressure. This leads to confidence.
- Try out the new rules before your child/teen experiences peer pressure and is in a high stakes setting. For example, if your guideline is that family members will leave an address or specific location where they will be each time they go out for the evening, then create a system where you’ll always leave this information.
- Identify with your child/teen their closest friend and discuss the role of a safety buddy. Over pizza, chat about what kind of plan they could establish if they want to leave a party or an uncomfortable situation.
- Initiate the no-risk pick up. Drive friends to hang out at the mall or movies. Assure your child/teen you’ll pick up with no lectures if they are uncomfortable or there’s been marijuana or drinking.
Step 4. Support Your Child’s/Teen’s Development and Success
At this point, you’ve taught your child/teen about marijuana and established rules, and you are allowing them to practice so they can learn how these play out in social situations. Now, you can offer support when it’s needed by reteaching, monitoring, coaching, and, when appropriate, following through with logical consequences. Parents naturally offer support as they see their child/teen fumble with a situation in which they need help. This is no different.
- Ask key questions to check in. “How are the rules we’ve established? Are they reasonable to you? Are you struggling at all? Are the plans we set up, like your safety buddy, working out so far?”
- Monitor their activities. Before they go out, be sure you know where they are going, who they’ll be with, and how they are getting there. Verify when they’ll be home. Offer the ride home. And when they get home, be there to greet, hug, and discreetly check their breath.
- Recognize effort by using “I notice…” statements like, “I notice how you called me when you were uncomfortable. That’s taking responsibility!”
- Stay engaged. Be ready to talk when your child/teen is eager. It can feel like their willingness to talk comes at the most inopportune moments. Remember that these are precious windows of opportunity for you to learn about what’s going on in their lives and offer support.
- Engage in further practice. If your child/teen shares struggles, explore how you can create additional plans to help them feel supported.
- Apply logical consequences when needed. Logical consequences should come soon after the negative behavior and need to be provided in a way that maintains a healthy relationship. Rather than punishment, a consequence is about supporting the learning process. First, get your own feelings in check. Not only is this good modeling, when your feelings are in check you are able to provide logical consequences that fit the behavior. Second, invite your child/teen into a discussion about the expectations established in Step 2 about the rules your family agreed upon. Third, if you feel that your child/teen is not holding up their end of the bargain (unless it is a matter of them not knowing how), then apply a logical consequence as a teachable moment.
Don’t create a situation where your rules are so tight, strict, and inflexible that you invite your child’s/teen’s rebellion. Show that you value their opinions and are reasonable. Learn together about the risks so that you are revisiting rules as a team. Children/teens need to understand (and review) the importance of rules and why they are reasonable.
Step 5. Recognize Effort and Quality to Foster Motivation
No matter how old your child is, your praise and encouragement are their sweetest reward.
If your child/teen is working to grow their skills — even in small ways — it will be worth your while to recognize it. Your recognition can go a long way in promoting positive behaviors and helping your child/teen manage their feelings. Your recognition also promotes safe, secure, and nurturing relationships — a foundation for strong communication and a healthy relationship with you as they grow.
You can recognize your child’s/teen’s efforts with praise, high fives, and hugs. Praise is most effective when you name the specific behavior of which you want to see more. For example, “You called when you needed a ride. That’s so smart!”
Avoid bribes. A bribe is a promise for a behavior, while praise is special attention after the behavior. While bribes may work in the short term, praise grows lasting motivation for good behavior and effort. For example, instead of saying, “If you talk with your friend about not going to the party, I will let you have additional screen time” (which is a bribe), try recognizing the behavior after. “You shared your concerns about the party with your friend. Love seeing that!”
- Recognize and call out when it is going well. It may seem obvious, but it’s easy not to notice when all is moving along smoothly. When children/teens are enlisting a safety buddy and coming home on time, for example, a short, specific call out is all that’s needed. “I noticed you designated a safety buddy and got home on time. Yes! Excellent.”
- Recognize small steps along the way. Don’t wait for the big accomplishments in order to recognize effort. Remember that your recognition can work as a tool to promote more positive behaviors. Find small ways your child/teen is making an effort and let them know you see them.
- Build celebrations into your routine. Include hugs, high fives, and fist bumps as ways to appreciate one another.
Engaging in these five steps is an investment that builds your skills as an effective parent to use on many other issues and builds important skills that will last a lifetime for your child/teen. Throughout this tool, there are opportunities for children/teens to become more self-aware, to deepen their social awareness, to exercise their self-management skills, to work on their relationship skills, and to demonstrate and practice responsible decision making.
Connect with other Montana parents about underage drinking and drugs at LetsFaceItMt.com.