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Continued: Parents, talk to your kids about health risks of heavy marijuana use

  • Article by: KEVYN BURGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: March 21, 2014 - 10:06 AM

Vu said that some students who seek help at Boynton struggle academically as a result of their marijuana use.

In an ongoing longitudinal study, Boynton Health Services is surveying thousands of Minnesota college students about their drug and alcohol use every three years. The most recent results, from 2013, found only a slight uptick in marijuana use.

But Boynton’s survey of students at the university found that those who smoke the most marijuana have lower grade-point averages.

“There is an absolute correlation, and one that makes sense,” said Dave Golden, Boynton’s director of public health. “With the academic rigor here, it’s tough to be a daily user and do well.”

That’s a point worth making for parents who want to discourage their sons and daughters from smoking pot, according to Dr. Joseph Lee, medical director at Hazelden Youth Services.

“It’s undeniable that kids who use do worse in school, have lower grades, drop out more. Parents need to say, ‘I don’t want that for you,’ ” he said. “We know that kids who feel their parents would disapprove use less. The other way of saying that is, kids who feel their parents are more accepting use more.”

Compare pot to alcohol

The untimely death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman coupled with the startling number of record-setting heroin overdoses in Minnesota has prompted many parents to talk with their teens or young adults about the dangers of heroin.

Drug prevention experts say those same parents should also be talking about marijuana use.

“Parents don’t know what to say about marijuana, so they say nothing,” said Falkowski. “Kids read that as implicit approval, ‘It must be OK because my parents didn’t even mention it.’ ”

She suggests that parents frame their concerns the same way they discourage alcohol use.

“Even in the states where it is legal, it’s against the law until age 21,” she said. “Remind them that it’s something that can be unpredictable, and they might do things under the influence that they wouldn’t otherwise do. And that’s risky. It could lead to behavior that could affect their life.”

Parents who have smoked — or still smoke — marijuana may stop short of taking a hard line against pot.

Experts vary on whether parents should reveal a personal history with the drug, in part because when functioning adults admit their use, their offspring can regard smoking marijuana as an activity without serious consequences.

But Hazelden’s Lee said that parents need to spell out their concerns, especially in families with a history of chemical dependency.

“Keep the message straightforward and targeted. Don’t be wishy washy about your expectations,” he said. “You have the right to set rules in your family and it’s OK to say this is a family rule.”

Lee sees a conversation about marijuana use as an opportunity for parents to share their values and attitudes.

“Parents underestimate the influence they have,” said drug and alcohol counselor Vu. “A lot of parents have a don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy with their students. There’s a level of acceptance that young adults will have a period of experimentation and the tendency of parents is to think — or hope — this experimentation is harmless. But it isn’t always.”

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