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Parenting Matters: Preventing Teen Marijuana Use

by Stephen M. Miller, MA

The recent shift in societal norms surrounding marijuana use may be cause for alarm to some parents of adolescents.  Several states have legalized marijuana for medical use, and a few even for recreational use, putting the drug on par with substances like alcohol and tobacco. With even more states considering legalization for recreational use, it may be useful to take a moment and consider what this might mean for adolescent marijuana use. 

For starters, passing a law that legalizes marijuana may signal to youth that the substance is “safe” to experiment with.  It may also create an environment where it is easier for minors to obtain marijuana. What’s more, we still don’t have a good grasp on the long-term effects using marijuana has on the adolescent brain. Fortunately for parents, there are several steps they can take to lessen the likelihood that their children will use marijuana.

In a just-released book chapter1 on how parents can influence their child’s marijuana use, researchers highlight four of the most effective strategies based on the most recent behavioral research.

  1. Don’t use marijuana!  This may seem obvious, but the fact is that the mantra “Do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t work with teenagers and young adults.  In fact, children have a much better sense of whether their parents use despite parents’ best efforts to conceal their use. Specifically, they infer that if their parents use, then the substance must be safe, fun, and they probably won’t get into much trouble if they are caught. In short, if you don’t want your children to use marijuana set a good example and refrain from using it yourself.

  2. Adopt an authoritative parenting style.  Authoritative parents can set high standards for their children while simultaneously communicating their unconditional love for them. It could be justly summarized as the “firm but fair” approach to parenting. There are numerous resources that go into further detail,2 but suffice it to say that by adopting an authoritative style parents communicate to their children that they want (and expect) the best for them, which goes hand in hand with wanting them to avoid using drugs.

  3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.  If children do not hear about marijuana from you, they are going to hear it from someone else, most likely from their friends who often have less accurate information. Research shows that while many parents report talking to their children about marijuana use, few children remember the conversation. This is a sad fact considering another body of research that shows children whose parents talk to their children early and often about drug use are far less likely to experiment with drugs. Don’t be ashamed if you don’t know what to say- there are ample resources to help you start the conversation.3,4

  4. Monitor your children’s activities.  Knowing where your children are and who they are with can help you to prevent them from ending up in risky situations. A great deal of research has shown that children whose parents consistently monitor their activities are less likely to use controlled substances, including marijuana.5 Making schedules, contacting other parents, and utilizing mobile technology are just some of the ways you can ensure your children are spending their time in safe environments.

The most important takeaway for parents should be that yes, you can have an impact on whether your children choose to experiment with marijuana, even amidst this changing environment. However, you cannot have an impact unless you are proactive in your own behavior. By following these four steps, parents can do their part to raise happy, healthy, drug-free kids.  


1Miller, S. M., Siegel, J. T., & Crano, W. D. (2017). Parent’s influence on their children’s cannabis use. In Preedy, Victor R. (Ed), The handbook of cannabis and related pathologies: Biology, diagnosis, treatment and pharmacology. London: Elsevier.

2 Dewar, G. (2013). The authoritative parenting style: Warmth, rationality, and high standards. Parenting Science. As of August 22, 2016, available at:

3 Volkow, N. D. (2016). Marijuana: Facts parents need to know – A letter to parents. As of August 22, 2016, available at:

4 Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. (2016). 8 ways to talk with your teen about drugs and alcohol. As of August 22, 2016, available at:

5 Lac, A., & Crano, W. D. (2009). Monitoring matters: Meta-analytic review reveals the reliable linkage of parental monitoring with adolescent marijuana use. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4, 578–586.


Stephen Miller is a graduate student in psychology at Claremont Graduate University. During the summer of 2016, he served as a summer associate at the RAND Corporation.


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