Relax Mom, It’s Only Pot!
Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Department of Family Social Science
Revised 2011. Reviewed May 2017 by author.
Second to alcohol, marijuana is the most commonly used drug among youth in the U.S. While use of most drugs among teens has decreased slightly, marijuana use is still a problem.
Use, Effects, Legality, and Access
Marijuana, also called pot, cannabis, reefer, grass, weed, dope, ganja, mary jane, and sinsemilla, looks like dried parsley with stems and/or seeds. It can be smoked, vaporized, or eaten. Paraphernalia includes rolling papers and pipes. Teens are most likely to smoke pot on the weekends, with friends, and at parties.
Pot increases the heart rate, causes bloodshot eyes, dry mouth and throat, increases the appetite, reduces short term memory, alters one’s sense of time, and reduces one’s concentration, coordination, and motivation.
Even though some states have passed laws legalizing marijuana use, it is still illegal in all states for youth under 21 years. Before legalization, about 40 percent of 8th graders and 70 percent of 10th graders reported pot was fairly easy or very easy to find. In states where it is legal, access for youth may increase.
Your Perception Is Different from Your Teen’s Reality
Many parents are unaware of what their child is doing. Recent studies have shown that what parents think their children do and what their teens actually do can be quite different:
- Over 40 percent of teens have tried pot, even though only 18 percent of parents think it is possible their child might have tried it.
- Sixty-two percent of teens say they have friends who use pot, even though only 21 percent of parents think their son or daughter might have friends who smoke pot.
- Five times as many parents believe child drug use is a national problem than believe drug use is a problem in their child’s school.
- Although one-third of parents believe their teen thinks pot is harmful, less than 20 percent of teens actually do.
Why Teens Try Pot
Teenagers use substances for the same reasons as adults do: to relieve stress, relax, have fun, because everybody else is doing it, and because being high often feels good. Teens often say, “I would like to try pot just once to see what it is like,” “Everyone tries drugs sometimes,” and “Smoking marijuana is okay sometimes.”
What Can I Do to Help My Teen?
Recognize that your child is being exposed to drugs and talk to them about the risks. Drug use is lower among kids who learn about the risks at home. The number one risk kids associate with drug use is “My parents would feel really bad if they found out I was using drugs.”
Here are tips for talking with your teenager about drugs:
- Establish a clear family position on drug use.
- Be prepared. Teens may have a lot of incorrect information they got from other kids and from the media. It’s okay to say you don’t know, but be sure to find the answer.
- Listen carefully to their concerns and feelings, and respect their views.
- Let them know it is okay to act independently from the group.
- Be aware of how you use and talk about drugs in front of your kids. Kids learn by watching you.
- Discuss the difference between prescription and illegal drugs.
- Seek outside help if you suspect a severe problem.
For more ideas and information, see the resources listed below.
‘Just Say No’ Isn't Good Enough!
Telling your teenager to “just say no” isn’t going to be enough to prevent him from trying pot at a party when all his friends are getting high. Practice how to say no in different situations with your teen. Give your teenager options for saying no and let him choose which he feels the most comfortable using.
Here are alternatives to “just say no:”
- Say, “I just don’t want to.”
- Suggest another activity like basketball, shopping, eating, or change the subject.
- Avoid situations where there might be drugs or hang out with friends who don’t use drugs.
- Say, “My mom won’t let me go” or “My dad would kill me if he ever caught me smoking pot.”
Remind your teen that it is okay to be at a party and not try pot, even if it seems like everybody else is doing it. For more tips on how to handle unsafe situations, see Keeping Teens Safe: The Village Approach.
How Can I Tell If My Teen Has a Problem?
Here are some warning signs:
- Getting high on a regular basis or avoiding others to get high.
- Giving up activities they used to enjoy such as sports or hanging out with friends.
- Wearing clothes with drugs pictured on them or reading magazines on drugs.
- Getting into trouble with the law.
- Feeling run-down, depressed, or suicidal.
- Missing school, poor school performance, or suspension from school for a drug-related incident.
If you suspect your teen has a problem with drugs, you can contact your physician, school counselor, an independent drug counselor, or the resources listed below to get help for your teen and your family.
Schaefer, C. E., & DiGeronimo, T. F. (1999). How to talk to teens about really important things: Specific questions and answers and useful things to say. San Francisco: Wiley.
Steinberg, L. (2011). You and your adolescent: The essential guide for ages 10-25. New York: Simon and Schuster.
DrugFacts: Marijuana — National Institute on Drug Abuse — Offers facts about marijuana, including how people use it, its effects on the brain and overall health, and treatment options. English | español
Talking to Your Kids: Communicating the Risks — National Institute on Drug Abuse — Offers parents tips for talking with their children about the drug and its potential harmful effects. English | español
How to Talk about Marijuana — Partnership for Drug-Free Kids — Prepare yourself for what you’re likely to hear and find a few suggestions for how to respond.
Marijuana Anonymous — Find help to recover from marijuana addiction.