Weed Week

How To Talk to Your Young Kids About Weed

Hint: The exact same way you should talk to them about booze, swearing, and scary movies.


There's plenty of advice out there about how to talk to your teens about weed (much of which is rapidly becoming outdated as the legal and cultural landscape shifts). But even as marijuana consumption becomes more commonplace, there's not much guidance on how to talk to younger kids.

Maybe that's because most parents' first thought is to hide their cannabis consumption from their young kids. But there's a better way, one that prepares kids for adult life while also reinforcing other good parenting practices. 

Do what you want to do in front of them, tell them what you are doing, and then tell them they are not allowed to do it yet. Telling them why is optional, depending on your kids' ages and personalities. 

Some things are for adults, and not for children. Options include swearing, sex, coffee and alcohol, cannabis, and scary media, but the list in your household may vary. The bottom line, though, is that adults do not need to behave like children in order to teach children how to behave. In fact, concealing appropriate adult behaviors from kids creates confusion and dangerous allure where there need not be any.

Kids know when you're hiding something. They have a habit of sniffing out subterfuge and no qualms about calling it out. Sure, kids are dumb. But adults can be pretty dumb too. Especially when they're pleasantly buzzed. Rather than rely on stealth, try establishing boundaries instead. There's nothing wrong with preferring privacy for private activities; that's often another appropriate boundary. But if you don't want your kids to be sneaky, don't be sneaky with your kids. 

I raise my kids the way my parents raised me: I use profanity around them extensively—though never at them, and never in anger—and have also made it clear that they are not allowed to say those words until they are much older, both because society frowns on potty-mouthed elementary schoolers and because as a matter of parenting strategy it's good to establish a boundary they can experiment with defying where the stakes are low. 

In our house, we also make a distinction between important rules and dumb rules. We draw a further distinction between two kinds of dumb rules: the ones you should feel free to defy and the ones you should submit to, despite their stupidity. 

For example: "Don't stick your finger in an electrical socket" is an important rule with serious consequences for health and safety. "Don't wear white shoes after Labor Day" is a dumb rule you should feel free to defy. And "you have to wear a navy polo shirt to school" is a dumb rule but we follow it anyway because it gets us other things we want.

One reason it's so hard to talk about pot with kids at the moment is that the adults really don't have our own house in order when it comes to the topic. At some point, cannabis consumption crossed into the dumb-rule-it's-OK-to-defy category. But there's a lot of grey area remaining, which can make answering childish queries difficult. Is it illegal? Not really, but a little bit. Is it dangerous? Almost certainly not, but we made doing research on the question mostly illegal for decades, so we're not 100 percent sure. Is it fun? If you get the right dose and strain, sure! But that's hard when you can only buy in a black or grey market. But one answer is easy: Is it for kids? No.

Slightly older kids have a more finely tuned sense for another adult foible: hypocrisy. If you consume weed, you should support legalization and destigmatization and talk to your kids about why. (The important rule vs. dumb rule distinction comes in handy here as well.) If you don't, good luck explaining your behavior to a skeptical pre-tween, but I wouldn't want to be in your shoes.  

If you live where cannabis is still wholly or mostly illegal, a slightly different approach is called for. Do not make your children accessories to criminal acts, no matter how dumb the law. Relatedly: Don't get super messed up in front of your kids, regardless of the substance. 

Despite its status as a Schedule I substance, there are actually no special parenting techniques needed with respect to cannabis, only a willingness to look past outdated stigma and recognize that weed is not a special case or a unique threat to kids. Model responsible behavior and let kids see it. Be clear and consistent about how rules apply differently to adults and children. Answer any questions they have, but don't foist too much information on them too soon; explain what's going on in words they can understand and process. 

My children are still young, but part of establishing credibility with boundaries is also expanding them as kids get older and more capable of making their own judgments. Absolute rules for children must give way to trust for teens and young adults—which sounds terrifying for this parent who is not there yet.

It's always worth asking yourself what is really going on when there is pressure for older teens or adults to conform to standards appropriate for children. Are the rules, regulations, or strictures actually in place to protect kids? Or are they a power play by authorities to infantilize adults? Paternalism is fine when you are actually parenting, but there's no need to bow to paternalists as an adult, even if they say it's "for the children."

Kids don't need you to model how to be a kid. They've got that one covered. They need you to be a parent and to model how to be a responsible adult—which you can do while sitting on your sofa and enjoying an occasional special brownie.