We live in a culture awash in mood-altering drugs. We shouldn’t be surprised, experts say, that some teenagers—risk-taking and curious by nature—decide to find out what all the fuss is about. After alcohol and tobacco, the drug they’re most likely to try is marijuana.
By senior year, over 40% of high schoolers have used pot, according to a 2006 National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) report. That’s down from 1979, when half of seniors made that claim. And it’s not nearly the virtually universal rate of alcohol use. But what you tell your daughter about drugs will strongly influence whether she winds up using marijuana, says Robert Schwebel, author of Saying No Isn’t Enough: Helping Your Kids Make Wise Decisions About Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs (Newmarket Press, 1998).
Don’t wait until she’s old enough to get handed a joint at a party. Start early by giving her information and helping her learn healthy ways to cope with problems. It’s especially important to maintain an “askable, approachable relationship” with your daughter, he says. That means keeping an open mind. When she makes a mistake, Schwebel says, “the worst thing to do is hit the roof.” Instead, take a deep breath and listen. “Parents should help children understand that mistakes are part of life and that they can learn from them,” he says.
Pot more dangerous now
Adults who grew up during a time of widespread marijuana use may underestimate pot’s dangers. Marijuana is more potent now. Kids are trying it at younger ages, and that increases the risks. Then as now, getting high can interfere with academic or athletic performance, may reduce motivation, and can lead to unwise sexual encounters.
And combined with driving, it can lead to tragedy. Adolescent girls are at particular risk when it comes to dabbling with pot. NIDA researchers have found that marijuana dependence is higher among adolescent females than males. In addition, adolescent females are at significantly more risk for marijuana dependence than any other age group of women.
While most people who smoke pot never try other drugs, most users of stronger drugs have previously tried marijuana, says NIDA experimental psychologist James Colliver. It’s not clear that marijuana itself “leads to” more harmful substances for any biological or chemical reason. But there are other potential links, he says. “Beginning marijuana use may expose people to a different social milieu, where they would meet people who use other drugs, or sell other drugs.”
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