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.

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There's plenty of advice out there about how to talk to your teens about weed (much of which is rapidly becoming outdated as the legal and cultural landscape shifts).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.

NEXT: Taxing Sin

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  1. Kids, do you notice when Daddy is upset and gritting his teeth after his commute home and he looks like he is going to strangle something? Have you noticed that after Daddy goes out on the deck for 10 minutes, he always returns and breaks out the ice cream and is up for playing board games and walking down to the park? Have you noticed how much Mommy loves that different Daddy when he returns from the deck with a smile on his face?
    Well kids,……..

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  2. The only reason to have kids is so they can buy the first round when they turn 21.

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  3. I made it a point not to lie to my son when he was growing up whether it was Santa Claus or my drug use as a young man. My wife was OK with that except the Santa thing so I let her handle that thing. Wasn’t really doing a lot of illegal stuff while he was growing up but I always figured he would at some point so my message was simply don’t get caught but if you do we’ve got your back.
    He’s now a grown man with 2 kids of his own and weed is now legal in Illinois. My wife has a medical card and grows her own and when the grandkids come over they know what it is. My son and his wife partake when the kids are in bed for the night and they’re aware of that too. Everybody seems happy and well adjusted. Don’t lie to your kids. They will remember.

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  4. There’s still the legal gray area where we infantilize young adults between the ages of 18 and 21. A comprehensive conversation explaining the illegality, penalties, and the asininity of the law would be appropriate.

    Interestingly, MADD’s Candy Lightner’s ugly-ass baby has blown up in the prohibitionists’ faces. You make the legal age for any vice 21, it pretty much blocks any other regulation of that vice like magic! Just look at how the moral panic for vaping evaporated once they got the age raised to 21.

    That’s why the big vape and cig makers were falling all over themselves to get the legal age for nicotine raised, and why the booze industry started the jackboot site responsibility.org toadying Lightner’s demon spawn.

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  5. Brownies aside, I’m always fascinated how comparisons to tobacco smoking are always sidestepped in these discussions. How is inhaling many of the same carcinogens present in cigarette smoke being an example of a responsible adult for your kids Katherine? Just sayin’!

    1. Some people are willing to take risks.
      Despite your vegan diet and obsessive jogging, you too will die someday.

  6. “Remember kids, don’t buy drugs – become a pop star and they’ll give you them for free…” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c2mVtSyRcA8

  7. Week is not a special case?
    Coffee is no more harmful to children than it is to adults. Ovaltine created and spread that lie to stimulate sales of its own product.

  8. Very good advice. I very much like the part about rules, especially the acknowledgement that people follow some dumb rules because there is payback for accepting those rules.

    1. There is also a price to pay.

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  9. How to talk to your kids about weed?

    Hint: don’t.

  10. Reading Reason sometimes makes me feel like I’m not a libertarian because I don’t like weed. The Medical Cocaine movement I had hoped for isn’t really going anywhere.

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