How early should you start talking to your daughter about marijuana and alcohol? It might be earlier than you think; one survey found that fourteen percent of minors admitted for alcohol and drug treatment started using cannabis before age 13. While girls statistically seem to start a little later than boys, it’s always better to have these talks before you think you need them.
As your teen daughter grows up and learns the boundaries between your parental authority and their own burgeoning independence, it’s hard for her to hear that she can’t do something; kids are more likely to do the right thing if they know why it’s the right thing. So here are a few great reasons why your teen daughter should wait to start using alcohol or drugs.
1. It’s Illegal
This is probably the most obvious of reasons, but it’s important to know exactly what risk your daughters face.
Marijuana is decriminalized in North Carolina, but that doesn’t mean it’s risk-free. Possession under half an ounce comes with a misdemeanor charge and a $200 fine. (And if it’s an adult who sold or shared the cannabis with your underage child, they can be charged with a felony and 3-8 years in prison.)
The legal consequences increase depending on how much above half an ounce your child is caught with. Anything up to 1.5 oz. is susceptible to 1-45 days in jail and a $1000 fine, while anything more than that is a felony charge in NC.
If your daughter is the type to think of a misdemeanor charge as a slap on the wrist, make sure she understands the implications of that criminal record–future job and college prospects included. The misdemeanor charge will also likely stay on her public record for any future friend or partner to Google. It’s the kind of embarrassment that doesn’t go away.
2. It increases their risk of future addiction
Test your daughter’s knowledge of marijuana with a simple question: is marijuana addictive? Public opinion would say no, but this is false; cannabis use disorder is real, and has harmful effects for the user and everyone around them.
Consider the University of Minnesota’s Department of Psychiatry’s research on addiction. When an individual starts using cannabis at 22 to 26 years old, their odds of developing cannabis use disorder are 3.9%. If your daughter starts using earlier, though–between 12 and 18 years of age–the risk more than doubles to 7.9%.
3. It may not even be worth it
Here’s another quiz question to ask your daughter: what are the benefits of marijuana?
Public opinion says that it can help with chronic pain and mental health issues, especially depression and anxiety. But since the federal government has branded marijuana a Schedule I substance, research about its positive and negative effects is difficult to obtain.
That’s not to say we have no research; a 2017 research review by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found substantial evidence that marijuana is effective in treating chronic pain. It also found an increased risk of respiratory / bronchial problems, as well as motor vehicle crashes.
Tip: The conversation about substance abuse isn’t a one-time thing to have with your kids. You should sit down and talk about it a couple of times a year–and especially when your daughter starts learning to drive. Remind her that you will always come pick her up if she can’t get home by herself–even if that means admitting to you that she’s under the influence. Better that than to get the call saying they’ve been in an accident.
4. It’s OK to say no.
One of the biggest reasons that kids turn to substance use is that “all their friends are doing it.” Research from the University of British Columbia shows that the effect of peer pressure is a little stronger in boys–but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to equip your daughter with strategies for saying no.
5. Girls’ mental health is important
Instead of peer pressure, some studies suggest that girls may turn to substances like cannabis due to a culture toward failing or dropping out of school. Many times, a desire to leave school is predicated by some kind of emotional challenge–boredom or dissatisfaction, bullying or abuse, trouble making friends, etc. In fact, the University of British Columbia’s research cited mental health issues as a primary factor that turns young girls to cannabis use–including problems in school.
With that in mind, it’s important for any conversation about substance abuse to start by talking to your daughter about her emotional state. How does she sleep at night? Is she eating regularly, and getting the proper nutrition? How are her friendships in school; is she being bullied or otherwise abused? How is her academic performance? Does she seem happy?
If her habits are poor, or you’ve noticed recent changes in her mood (depression, anger, isolation, etc.), please consider her risk for developing depression. You may not think adolescents have anything to be depressed about, but children get depressed, too–and early intervention is key.
In your daughter’s teen years, part of your responsibility as a parent is to help her learn to be an independent, functional young adult. Teaching her the value of support systems, coping mechanisms, and self-respect will go a long way. She should strive for academic achievement, but it’s important that she maintains hobbies and a sense of fun, too.
If you don’t think you are a support system for your daughter–that is, if you don’t think she’d come to you to talk about a problem she’s having–it’s never too early to foster those bonds. Being someone that your daughter can rely on and cry with will make her a happier, more well-adjusted adult.
You know how your daughter learns best. Maybe she needs to evaluate the risks of substance abuse to draw her own conclusions; maybe she needs a little extra love and support to feel as though she doesn’t need substances to make her happy. Make sure you keep having this conversation and talking to your teen daughter about her mental health, friends, and hobbies. The less stress your kid is under, the more empowered she will feel to make the right decisions for her future.