What Increases Youth Risk

Learn About Cannabis 5 What Increases Youth Risk

What increases the risk my teen will use cannabis?

There are many factors that influence whether or not adolescents choose to use cannabis. “Risk factors” are things that increase the likelihood your kid will use cannabis, while “protective factors” are things that decrease that likelihood.

The good news is there are many ways parents can reduce the chance their kid will use cannabis, and it’s not about looking through their belongings or grounding them at home. Parents can help by working to reduce risk factors and increase protective factors in their kid’s life. The table below shows several examples of risk and protective factors at each level and actions parents can take to have a positive impact.

Risk Factors and What Parents Can Do

Click the tabs below to learn what factors put a youth at risk for cannabis use — at the individual, relationship/family, community, and societal levels. 

Risk: Favorable attitudes toward cannabis use
What you can do: Have open and honest conversations with your kid about the potential consequences of cannabis use, especially for youth.

Risk: Lack of commitment to school
What you can do: Convey appreciation for who your kid is early and often. Connect your kid with adult role models who have transitioned out of rebelliousness in their community.

Risk: Excessive risk-taking
What you can do: Provide opportunities for your kid to participate in healthy risk-taking such as trying new sports, music, and clubs.

Risk: Early aggressive behavior
What you can do: Work with your kid’s school or with a counselor to help them learn how to manage aggressive or violent impulses.

Risk: Alcohol, nicotine, or tobacco use
What you can do: Talk with your kid early about these substances to prevent use.  If your kid currently uses, the Washington Recovery Help Line has substance use disorder information and resources for people in Washington State.

Risk: Poor sleep habits
What you can do: Help your kid develop healthy sleep hygiene such as keeping a regular sleep-wake schedule, having a quiet and dark room, and removing phones and other electronic devices out of the bedroom when it’s time to sleep.

Risk: Mental illnesses like anxiety or depression
What you can do: Support your kid with their mental health and help them access therapy/resources if needed. The Washington Recovery Help Line has mental health and substance use disorder information and resources for people in Washington State.

Risk: Friends who use cannabis
What you can do: Get to know your kid’s friends and pay attention to what activities they do with them to reduce the chances that problems will occur.

Risk: Peer favorable attitudes towards cannabis use & perceived use of cannabis among friends
What you can do: Communicate with you kids about cannabis use & explain that most teens aren’t using.

Risk: Family history of addiction
What you can do: Talk with your kid about their family history, establish clear rules, and help them connect with their family and community.

Risk: Family management problems (unclear boundaries or inconsistent consequences)
What you can do: Establish clear rules around cannabis use, monitor your kid’s behavior, and apply appropriate consequences for breaking rules.

Risk: Family conflict/unstable parent-child relationship
What you can do: Improve your own skills for expressing anger in healthy ways and communicate your feelings clearly and calmly with your kid. Spend quality time with your kid to build closer bonds.

Risk: Parental favorable attitudes towards cannabis & parental use of cannabis
What you can do: Establish clear rules for cannabis use. Communicate that cannabis is not safe for teens. Avoid consuming cannabis in front of your kid.

Risk: Limited parental support
What you can do: Support your kid’s activities and interests by talking with them about what they enjoy, help them work through challenges, and attend events to cheer them on.

People of different nationalities and religions cartoon characters. Risk: Poor academic performance
What you can do: Try to understand the root causes of your kid’s academic struggle and find proper support by connecting with your kid’s teacher or school counselor.

Risk: Easy availability of cannabis in community
What you can do: Control the availability of cannabis in your household by locking it up or keeping it out of reach. Ask family members and the parents of your kid’s friends whether cannabis is kept in their household and how it is stored.

Risk: Community norms favorable toward cannabis
What you can do: Talk with other parents about the rules in your household about cannabis. Help educate your friends and family about the risks of adolescent cannabis use.

Risk: Low neighborhood attachment
What you can do: Get involved in your community by getting involved in your kid’s school, participating in community events, and getting to know your neighbors.

Child with mobile phone, scrolling social media, network. Risk: Favorable media portrayals of substance use
What you can do: Enforce guidelines that limit your kid’s access to substance use media portrayals in television, music, video games, YouTube, and other media. Resources such as Common Sense Media and Kids-In-Mind can be helpful for screening media for portrayals of content related to substance use and many other topics.

Risk: Relaxed cannabis laws/policies
What you can do: Advocate for cannabis legislation that you would like to see. Find your district and legislative representative in Washington State.

In addition to the risk factors described above, there are also risk factors that stem from systemic problems in our society. Teens who are part of marginalized communities, are in the foster care system, or have experienced poverty or other forms of trauma may be at greater risk for substance use. Since these risk factors stem from societal issues, they often can’t be addressed by simply changing your behavior at home.

However, that doesn’t mean parents can’t do anything to support these teens. Being an active adult in your kid’s life and letting your kid know that you are a safe resource to turn to decreases the likelihood that they will turn to substances to cope with their trauma. Parents can also advocate for change in local policies and support community organizations that work to reduce inequity and provide resources to families in need.

Regardless of what risk factors are present in your kid’s life, the best way to prevent your kid from using cannabis is to develop a close bond, keep communication open about the risks of cannabis use for teens, and keep track of what your kid is doing and who they are with. Read more about reducing youth cannabis youth.

Last updated August 2023.