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Beyond "Just Say No" 

How to talk to kids about pot

"Mom. It's legal." This phrase has likely flown from more than one teenager's mouth when a parent was trying to talk about drugs since the passage of Initiative 502. Regardless of whether a parent indulges or not, talking to your kids about marijuana became a bit more challenging.

While many teens — and younger children — insist that it's legal, the simple fact is that it isn't until age 21, and can have adverse developmental consequences for children and teens.

To assist parents, the Washington State Department of Social & Health Services partnered with Seattle Children's Hospital and the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington to create a guide aimed at preventing underage marijuana use. The guide is thorough — tackling the effects and offering tips for teaching your kids about them, signs of underage use, and advice on how to manage marijuana in a house with users and minors. Here are a few tips to get you started:

Start early: Some kids try marijuana by age 14, so the guide recommends talking about drugs as early as fourth grade. Be clear about what your family's expectations are when it comes to marijuana use.

Potential side effects: Although many say it is "natural," marijuana is potentially a harmful drug. Teen cannabis use is associated with many health problems: paranoia, anxiety, depression, hallucinations and even permanent decrease in IQ with prolonged use.

Signs your child is using marijuana: Look for differences in your child's behavior, such as mood changes, carelessness in appearance, and relationship problems with friends or family. You also may see changes in grades, skipping school, loss of interest in favorite activities, or changes in sleeping and eating habits.

Your child is using

marijuana: Keep calm. Communicate your disapproval of the behavior, not the child. If you have properly laid out guidelines, stick to the consequences but leave the door open for problem solving.

Don't say: You can do it as long as you're at home: Studies show that teens who use alcohol at home are more likely to abuse alcohol when not at home. The same holds true for marijuana.

You used marijuana, or use marijuana: Just like with alcohol, tell your child that it is against the law to use marijuana until they are 21. The teen brain can be harmed by regular marijuana use in ways that the adult brain is not. Using marijuana as a teen increases the likelihood that a person will become addicted to marijuana. ♦

— The entire guide is available at learnaboutmarijuanawa.org.

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