What we need to know about marijuana and our kids

Jenny-Byxbee-greenwich-voicesEarly in my job working in Greenwich, I founded a collaborative called the Juvenile Review Board that I continue to oversee.

When we started back in 2005, the aim was to connect local youth who were committing misdemeanor offenses to the services that were needed to help rehabilitate them. My hope when I started the review board was to be able to build resiliency in our young people and reduce our recidivism rate. But things are changing in this state.

Since 2005, Connecticut’s laws regarding marijuana have changed and we are seeing fewer penalties for private possession. But it’s important to be aware that even though the new laws effectively mean a marijuana smoker is less likely to be referred to the criminal justice system, there can still be very severe penalties. Decriminalization of marijuana does not mean legalization and it doesn’t mean there are no consequences.

From a personal standpoint, I have yet to see anything positive come from our young people smoking.

It has been an eye-opener for me that there is no one set image of a Greenwich young person who smokes marijuana. More young people are involved with this than we think. It is our good students. It is our struggling students. It is our athletes. It is what we consider our “youth at risk.” But it is also those we consider to be our youth that have it all and have a lot to lose.

The young users we see in the cases that come before the Juvenile Review Board don’t typify the somewhat lighthearted portrayals of some decades back. Some television programs, like That ’70s Show, come to mind, where high school students get stoned in the basement of their parents’ house and their antics only get silly and sillier.

The reality is that young people in Greenwich are using marijuana to help them fall asleep at night, or cope with the stress of not getting into their college of choice. It is our local young people buying it in mass quantities to maximize the amount they can buy — and taking great risks to get high in the process.

Additionally, there has been so much research on the development of the adolescent brain, which continues to develop until one is in their mid-20s. The National Institute on Drug Use’s research illustrates that the impact of smoking marijuana especially with young people can lead into a drop in IQ and significant problems with both short- and long-term memories. But, and this is equally concerning, prolonged drug use changes the brain in long-lasting ways, and contrary to popular belief, marijuana can lead to dependency.

There are some great parent education resources available, like Drugfree.org, a website for the partnership for a drug-free America that includes Timetotalk.org, a wonderful guide for how to start conversations early and often with our children. I also encourage parents to take the National Drug IQ Challenge with their children and to participate in the National Drug Facts Week Chat Day this coming Tuesday, Jan. 28, to have their questions about drugs answered by experts.

The direct link to the activities may be found at Drugfactsweek.drugabuse.gov/activities.php.

Happening in town tonight, Jan. 23, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. is a parent seminar on how to listen actively and hear your teenager. This can help parents gain insights into what teens are experiencing and how to help our children build resiliency. This seminar is free of charge and hosted by community partners Liberation Programs, the Lower Fairfield County Regional Action Council, the Boys & Girls Club of Greenwich, the Greenwich Police Department, the Fathers Forum, the Greenwich YMCA, and the Greenwich United Way. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to [email protected]

The question remains, Are we building healthy, resilient young people? Are we teaching our children how to feel their feelings, manage their disappointments and to be able to have fun without getting high?

More often than not, when it comes to any substance use, regretfully I have had to see young people hit rock bottom before they get better. Sometimes they are on the way back by the time they come before the review panel, sometimes they are not.

For things to change and the marijuana use in our young people to decrease, it will take the power of us parents and the power of our community to help our children be their best selves.

 

Jenny Byxbee is the Greenwich youth services coordinator. She may be reached at 203-869-2221 or [email protected]

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