Parents face new struggle talking kids about dangers of drugs

Published: Tuesday, June 19 2012 9:35 a.m. MDT

In this June 12, 2012 photo, Trish Nixon, left, stands with her 21-year-old daughter, Krista Nixon, in Colorado Springs, Colo. Trish Nixon talks about the challenge she has faced over the years about marijuana. Nixon said the message to her daughter changed over the years, evolving from "It's against the law, don't do it," to a more nuanced message that takes into consideration medical marijuana and ballot initiatives to legalize the drug. Trish Nixon said her mother's message meshed with what she was learning through her friends, which included some who used marijuana.

Associated Press

American parents are having a harder time talking to their children about drugs, as marijuana laws in many states are becoming more lenient, according to the Washington Post.

"Colorado and Washington state have measures on their Nov. 6 ballot that would go a further step and legalize recreational use of marijuana for adults," the author wrote.

Nine percent of all teens reportedly smoked marijuana at least 20 times in the past month, according to a MetLife foundation-sponsored report called the Partnership Attitude Tracking Study. "Overall, past-month heavy marijuana use is up 80 percent among U.S. teens since 2008," the Wall Street Journal Market Watch observed.

As marijuana use becomes more prevalent, parents wonder how to effectively talk to their children about the dangers of drug use.

"Parent-child conversations about pot have become extraordinarily complicated," said Stephen Pasierb, president of Partnership at drugfree.org, a national non-profit organization helping parents and families solve the problem of teen drug and alcohol abuse. "Legalization and medical use of marijuana have 'created a perception among kids that this is no big deal.'"

Parents should "handle changing cannabis culture by having 'relaxed' discussions with their kids," Pasierb said. "See where your kid is at. Ask them, 'What do you think?' Kids are willing to press all of mom's and dad's buttons, but they don't want to lose the ultimate respect of their parents. It's important for parents not to say, 'If you smoke marijuana, we'll throw you out of the house,' but they should say they'll be disappointed."

For Michael Jolton, a father of three boys in Colorado, the legalization of medical marijuana in his state in 2000 has called for discussion about the warnings of drugs with his children. He is having to explain billboards and other public ads, reported abc2news.

"I did not talk to my oldest son about marijuana when he was 8 years old. We got to talk about fun stuff. Now with my youngest who's 8, we have to talk about this," said Jolton.

The Huffington Post relayed advice from Pasierb to parents who can recall taking pot in their youth: "You should not lie to your child, but you don't owe them a blow-by-blow explanation of every party you went to."

The Chicago Sun-Times spoke with city councilwoman KC Becker in Boulder, Colo., who "doesn’t oppose Boulder’s thriving marijuana business but realizes that, within her family, she’ll have to approach the topic differently than her parents did."

“My parents definitely didn’t talk to me about drugs, ever,” Becker said. Marijuana legalization, she said, “does force you to talk about it and explain it — but that’s not necessarily bad.”

When her 4-year-old asks about marijuana ads, she approaches the topic unabashadly. “I’ll say, ‘That’s a store where people can get medicine to help them when they feel sick, but you have to be responsible in using it and old enough,’” Becker said.

Parents should be aware of the social and psychological pitfalls that drug usage can cause. Conversation with your children should center around a child's well-being, rather than the fear of arrest, Linda Pearlman Gordon, a psychotherapist and family counselor told the Chicago Sun-Times.

“It’s troubling when anyone uses a substance to self-medicate, to push away difficult feelings,” she said. “You want to make sure your child, if having difficult feelings, knows there are healthy ways to deal with it.”

Email: rlowry@desnews.com

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