American adolescents today face amazingly confusing messages regarding the use of marijuana. On one hand, the federal government still considers marijuana use illegal in all states and classifies it in a category that also contains the hard narcotics heroin and cocaine. While on the other hand, nine states have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use and 29 states have approved its use for medicinal purposes.

What is a teenager supposed to believe?

First and foremost, remember that teenagers are still developing, physically and mentally. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that un-prescribed medications and/or alcohol can severely affect a young person’s ability to develop to their full potential.

That being said, parents need to be honest with their teens when discussing and laying out parameters for their social behaviors. Today’s teen has come of age during the push for marijuana legalization. They have seen reports on the news and articles in the paper discussing the issue. They have been hearing and seeing messages and pro-legalization ads that were intended to influence adult votes, not adolescents’ beliefs. Many parents have used marijuana in the past and some still do.

“The kids I’m seeing are coming in and saying, ‘It’s really no big deal to do weed, Doctor,'” said Dr. Rosemary Stein, a pediatrician from North Carolina. “And the parents I’m seeing are thinking, ‘It is a big deal,’ and they don’t want their kids doing it. They want me to get through to them that ‘it’s not good for you,’ and to ask where they’re hearing that ‘it’s OK.'”

There are three basic facts regarding teen use of marijuana:

  • Marijuana use can become addictive.
  • It can negatively affect performance in academics and sports.
  • Driving under its influence is dangerous.

Last year the American Academy of Pediatrics released a report, “Counseling Parents and Teens about Marijuana Use in the Era of Legalization of Marijuana.” The AAP is urging physicians to screen adolescents for marijuana use. Doctors are also encouraged to tell parents that they should be watching for signs of use.

The Marijuana Education Initiative has issued some guidelines for parents in talking to their teens about marijuana:

  • Be empathetic. The struggle is real for teens. Today’s adolescent faces far more stresses than previous generations, and they don’t always have the maturity and life experience to understand the long-term impacts of their decisions. It takes a lot of courage to not just follow the crowd.
  • Teach the facts. Empower teens with information. When adolescents know the facts about their own brain development and how recreational marijuana use can affect their brains, they can make informed decisions.
  • Keep the conversation going. Adolescence is a time of testing limits, pushing boundaries, and seeking independence. Just because a teen might have made a decision that you don’t support does not mean that the conversation is over. Continuous and open conversations ensure that adolescents have a clear understanding of expectations and boundaries.

The discussion in the current environment parallels what has been argued regarding alcohol for decades: It is an adult activity that should be practiced in moderation. Plus, in the states of Missouri and Kansas, marijuana use is still illegal for everyone!