Talking to Your Teen

Marijuana – legal or otherwise – is a hot topic. The national debate on the legalization of marijuana as well as many states’ legalization of marijuana, has helped normalize use for many teens. This new landscape does not change the fact, however, that all mind-altering substances – including marijuana – are harmful for the still-developing teen brain.

Marijuana can have detrimental effects and is not as benign as some teens believe, or want their parents to believe. Marijuana can increase risk of chronic cough, bronchitis and schizophrenia in susceptible individuals. It may also increase risk of anxiety, depression and a series of attitude and personality changes. These changes can include declining performance in school/school avoidance, disordered eating and sleeping problems. Marijuana, just like any other drug, can lead to addiction. It affects the brain’s reward system in the same way as all other drugs of addiction; and the likelihood of addiction increases considerably for those who start young. Even occasional use of marijuana can cause teens to engage in risky behavior, find themselves in vulnerable situations and make dangerous decisions – combining marijuana with alcohol, driving while high, engaging in unsafe sexual activity – while under the influence.

It is more important than ever for caring adults to protect teens’ health and development by addressing this issue early and often. Believe it or not, as influential as peers and friends are, parents/guardians/other caring adults are the most powerful influence in a teen’s life; and can help guide them toward healthy choices and away from harmful behaviors.

If you hear or see something that concerns you, take an initial step – as a caring adult – and simply let this teen know that you are worried. An initial conversation expressing your concern is a good place to start.

How to Talk AND Listen to Your Teen:


  • Do keep an open mind and withhold judgment. While this can be challenging, try to preserve a position of objectivity.
  • Do be clear about your goals and perhaps write them down. You can look back afterward and review what went well, what did not go well, which goals were met, which goals were saved for a later date.
  • Do find a comfortable setting and use a more spontaneous, casual introduction to the talk, in order to minimize teen anxiety. Although well-intentioned, “We need to talk,” tends not to set you up for success. Taking a walk with your teen or sitting down together outside of your home is usually more effective. Look for a place that feels less confined, but is not too distracting.
  • Do be aware of your own body language. If your teen is sitting, you want to be sitting as well. Be mindful of finger-pointing and crossed arms; these are closed gestures, while uncrossed legs and a relaxed posture are open gestures.


  • Do not attempt a conversation if your teen is drunk or high, if you are angry, or if you are not prepared. This conversation may be tough and all factors ought to be considered.
  • Do not Lecturing will most likely lead to your teen shutting down, tuning you out, anger or worse. It could be misinterpreted as you disapproving of your teen instead of disapproving of your teen’s actions. This can lead to shame and, in turn, an increase in worrisome behaviors.
  • Do not get defensive. If your teen makes a remark that feels like a personal attack, try to use this as a discussion point by coming from a place of genuine curiosity.
  • Do not just take what your teen says at face value. Listen to your teen’s tone of voice and use your instinct if something does not feel right.

After an initial conversation, you may decide this teen needs more help and guidance than you can personally provide. While this may be scary, many caring adults do not realize that ‘outside help’ does not necessarily come in the form of rehab. You may feel a stigma surrounding mental health concerns, substance abuse and addiction. The most important thing to remember however, is that the student’s/teen’s worrisome behavior is nothing to be ashamed of. You have a responsibility to keep the student/teen in your life healthy and safe, regardless of what others think or say. You may be this adolescent’s biggest advocate and it is crucial to not let embarrassment stand in the way of getting the help this young person needs and deserves. (Click here for our Hallway’s Early Intervention program.)