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The Dangers of Marijuana

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Your 15-year-old graciously allows you to play an oldies station on a short drive to the mall. In the middle of the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields," your reverie is shattered. "Mom," your teenager asks, "Did you ever smoke pot?"

Talking with teens today about marijuana is complicated, in part because parents who've smoked it aren't sure whether or not to "'fess up." Parents have to make their own decisions about how much to share with their children. But being honest and reflecting on how you feel about the risks you took in youth is a good way to engage teens in dialog about what's going on in their lives.

According to a 1998 survey by the Department of Health and Human Services, 22 percent of eighth-grade students and 40 percent of twelfth-graders report having tried marijuana. Whether or not you've used marijuana and choose to share that with your children, it's essential for them to know some important things about the drug.

Give a Clear Message

Kids get mixed messages about marijuana, but your message needs to be clear:

It's an illegal substance in the United States. While many people feel that marijuana should be legalized, and it's not thought to be as lethal as drugs like heroin or cocaine, smoking marijuana isn't harmless.

Because marijuana is so available to young people, it's important to begin talking with kids about it by the time they are 12, even if they don't raise the issue themselves. Many schools start drug-education programs as early as sixth grade. Find out how your school system handles drug education, and work with other parents to make sure children get accurate information.

Expect to have conversations with your kids about drugs throughout their adolescence. Magazines or newspaper articles are often good jumping-off points for talks. Or you can begin by saying, "You're getting to an age where you will have to make choices about all sorts of things, including drugs. I'm wondering if you know anything about marijuana?" Teens and preteens need to be told clearly that using the drug carries significant safety, health, and legal risks.

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