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5 Urgent Reasons to Keep Youth Marijuana-Free

Whether you know it as marijuana, THC, cannabis, weed, or pot, one fact is clear: No amount of marijuana use is safe for youth. Because young people’s brains are still developing into their mid-20s, they are much more vulnerable to the harmful effects of marijuana use, including its negative effects on mental health. In fact, teens can become addicted much more easily and quickly than adults: 90% of Americans struggling with addiction today started using alcohol and other drugs in their teen years, highlighting just how important early prevention efforts are to reducing our kids’ risk of addiction.

With more marijuana being sold and used in our communities, it’s more important than ever to protect them from early experimentation. Here’s five of the most important reasons to keep youth marijuana-free:

1. Marijuana Today is Stronger Than Ever Before

The marijuana available today at gas stations, smoke shops, and dispensaries is not the same marijuana of the past. The THC concentration (the substance responsible for the “high”) in commonly cultivated marijuana plants has increased dramatically over the years. While the average THC concentration in the 1960s was 1% to 4%, dispensaries are selling products with average THC concentrations between 17.7% and 23.2%. In fact, the potency of marijuana has increased almost four-fold just since 1995, from under 4% to over 15% in 2021, and continues to increase. Many “flower” products are in even stronger potencies than this: A quick search of a local dispensary showed marijuana flower products as high as 31.54% THC.

This doesn’t even account for high-THC concentrates like dabs, waxes, shatter, budder, and oils used in vaping cartridges, infused joints, and edibles, which are far more widely available to the public today. These extracts can deliver extremely large amounts of THC to the body when vaped or smoked, and depending on the process used, can contain anywhere from 39% THC to over 80% THC. The risk of addiction to marijuana increases with exposure to high concentrations of THC, and higher doses of THC are more likely to produce anxiety, agitation, paranoia, and psychosis. These highly concentrated THC products pose even greater risks to young, developing brains.

Keep in mind that these marijuana products are not approved by the FDA, meaning there’s no regulation regarding safety, efficacy, or even proper dosage. Keeping youth marijuana-free is a protective measure against the potential harms of increasingly potent strains.

2. Marijuana, Like Other Drugs, Can Be Addictive

Marijuana is often misperceived as a harmless substance, but it is not without its risks, especially to youth. Despite what you may have heard, marijuana can be addictive, especially for developing teen brains. Approximately 1 in 10 people who use marijuana will become addicted, but if they start before age 18, the risk of addiction rises to 1 in 6. Young people under age 25 are more prone to addiction than adults because it’s a form of learning. Just as it’s easier for a younger brain to pick up a new language or musical instrument than an older brain, it’s easier for teens to become addicted, because to the brain it’s all just “learning.” Additionally, early marijuana use can increase the likelihood of developing dependence on other substances later in lifeKeeping youth marijuana-free helps mitigate their risk of addiction.

3. Marijuana Use Harms Teen Mental Health

Conversations around youth mental health have grown more common in our homes, schools, and communities in recent years. As we navigate these conversations with youth, it’s important to recognize the role that substance use can play. Having mental health issues can lead teens to try to cope by using marijuana, despite the fact that marijuana use can negatively impact mental health. Exposure to the ever-increasing THC in marijuana may negatively impact our youth’s developing brain, disrupting their emotional development and ability to cope with stress and other negative emotions now and into their future. In fact, depression, anxiety, and psychosis are more common in teen marijuana users than their

non-using peers. Teens who use marijuana are also at a higher risk of suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts than their non-using peers. Encouraging a marijuana-free lifestyle is crucial for preserving the mental well-being of our youth.

4. Marijuana Use Negatively Impacts School Performance

The teen years are a time of incredible learning, growth, and exploration, and our teens have amazing brains that are just right for this stage of life. But because teen brains are undergoing significant changes, marijuana use can hijack this development and have short and long-term effects on our youth’s brains. The effects of marijuana use include difficulty thinking and problem solving, problems with memory and learning, impaired coordination, and difficulty maintaining attention – all important to succeeding in school. Students who smoke marijuana tend to get lower grades and are more likely to drop out of high school compared to their peers who don’t use.

Marijuana’s negative effects on attention, memory, and learning can last for days and sometimes weeks – long after the high wears off.

But because the brain is still developing, the damage from youth marijuana use can potentially be permanent. Some studies have even linked marijuana use to declines in IQ, especially when use starts in adolescence and persists into adulthood. Preventing youth marijuana use is critical to helping our kids succeed, learn, and grow into healthy adults.

5. Marijuana Use Makes Driving Dangerous

Many firsts occur for our kids during their teen years, including learning to drive and getting their license. However when driving is mixed with marijuana use, this exciting new experience can quickly turn into a dangerous one for everyone on the road. Marijuana use diminishes judgment and the many other skills needed for safe driving, like alertness, concentration, coordination, and reaction time. Gauging distance and reacting to sounds and signals also becomes more difficult with marijuana use. Couple that with inexperienced teen drivers, who might think driving high is “safe,” and the outcomes could be potentially tragic. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, marijuana is the most commonly identified illegal drug in deadly crashes, sometimes in combination with alcohol or other drugs.

By itself, marijuana is thought to roughly double a driver’s chances of being in a crash, and the combination of marijuana and even small amounts of alcohol further increases those risks. But the danger isn’t just limited to impaired drivers – Teens who use marijuana are more likely to be a passenger of an impaired driver. To keep our kids safe on the road, set the expectation that teens remain marijuana-free and that they never ride with a driver that they suspect is impaired.

How We Can Keep Youth Marijuana-Free

The good news is that marijuana rates among youth in the Northland are currently low and we can help keep it that way by:

  • Setting clear expectations that kids will stay marijuana-free. Let them know that any substance use, including marijuana use, is harmful to their growing brains and you care about their mental health and well-being.


  • Being curious and keeping the dialogue open about marijuana. Ask kids what they think or have heard about marijuana. Let them know they can come to you or other trusted adults for help with peer pressure, stress, or anxiety. Assure your child that their well-being is a priority and that they have options for relief other than turning to substance use.


  • Preparing kids for peer pressure. Help youth gain confidence to say “no” to marijuana by practicing scenarios and brainstorming what they might say if offered marijuana. Work with your teen to come up with a code word to text you or another trusted adult if they feel like they need help to get out of an unsafe situation. Support your teen in finding safe and drug-free ways to spend their time doing positive activities with peers.


  • Watch for early signs or symptoms of marijuana use and changes in behaviors, friend groups, or attitudes. Some warning signs include: Glassy, red eyes, slurred speech, dry mouth, a “skunky” smell, anxiety, a drop in grades, quitting activities, and difficulty thinking and problem solving. Get your child help early if you suspect any substance use.

Safeguarding the well-being of our youth must remain a top priority as we navigate the increasing availability and potency of marijuana in our communities. Its addictive nature, impact on mental health, and harmful effects on the growing brain all underscore the importance of keeping kids marijuana-free. As adults, we have the power to protect our kids and help prevent addiction, and Parent Up is here to help! Check out all of our free marijuana-specific resources here!

Parent Up KC Staff

An Open Letter to My Son about Underage Drinking

When my, now 25-year-old, son was entering 10th grade, I started getting a lot of questions from family and friends. They wondered how I was going to handle his inevitable experimentation with alcohol. When I expressed the idea that Tom might decide not to drink until he was 21, I was accused of living under a rock. It was just assumed that my son would drink, no matter what I thought or said. When the subject came up with other parents, a frequent response I got was, “I don’t want my kid to drink, but of course they will,” or “Kids will be kids.” And my personal favorite, “Well, we did it when we were their age.”

Really? Is this the criteria we are going to base our parenting on? I’ve always felt it’s my job as a parent to set the boundary and my kid’s job to test it. Because I’m a writer and blogger, I decided to write my feelings about this in a letter to my son. 

I wanted Tom to know where my husband and I stood on engaging in behaviors that are at best risky and at worst illegal or life-threatening. I joked that at least he could never say he didn’t know how I felt. I expected some people to disagree with me. I knew members in my own family, including my dad, did. But I never expected the letter would go viral, being shared hundreds of thousands of times. And that even ten years later, I would still on occasion be contacted about it.

Recently, Tom and I were discussing the fact that he chose not to drink until he turned 21. I never thought my letter was a real factor in his choice. I thought it had more to do with having friends that just weren’t into drinking. In fact, even though they are now over 21 and can legally drink, alcohol just isn’t a big part of their lives. 

So I was surprised when he said that the letter did play a part in his choice. Well, not the letter as much as what it represented. Tom knew exactly how we felt. We had many honest discussions about the dangers of drinking, especially the dangers of binge drinking. But the letter was a tangible reminder.

I want to be very clear, I don’t think I’m a good parent because my kid didn’t drink before he was 21. And I don’t think someone is a bad parent if their kid does choose to drink before the legal age. I do think our kids deserve a clear answer on how we feel about underage drinking. And if it’s a behavior we don’t want them to engage in, I think we should tell them. 


Dear Tom,

The legal drinking age in this country is 21. Please know that dad and I will never allow you to have alcohol in our house or in our presence until you reach that age. Please also know that no good has ever come from a group of teenagers drinking. It’s a recipe for all kinds of disasters. If you should choose to drink, you’ll not only be breaking the rules of our house, you’ll be breaking the law. If you get stopped for driving under the influence, or the police get called to a party where you have been drinking, you may be in a position where we can’t protect you. 

Always call me and your dad. ALWAYS. No matter what you have done. Don’t ever follow up a bad choice with one that’s worse just because you’re afraid of disappointing us or making us angry. Will we be happy? Of course not. But we would much rather get you and any friend who wants to come with you home safely, than get a call saying you are NEVER coming home. 

Let me be clear that the fact that we love you and will stand by you does not in any way mean we will stand by while you do things that you know aren’t good for you. There are those who will tell you that your parents are being unreasonable and totally unrealistic. Some may tell you that you are a teenager and it’s a rite of passage to get drunk. They may even regale you with stories of their own youthful mistakes. 

Listen to your own heart and trust your gut. Also know there is nothing cool about waking up in your own vomit, or having a DUI before you are 18. Your father and I are so proud of the man you are becoming. We love you so much that we don’t care if you hate us. That’s our gift to you — we are your parents, not your friends. 

Always, Mom


Kathy Radigan is a midlife writer, blogger, disability advocate, wife to one and mom of three. She began her online life with her blog, My Dishwasher’s Possessed!, and her work has been featured in HuffPost, Scary Mommy, Yahoo, Her View From Home, TODAY Parents, Romper, and many other online publications. Her current project, The Forever Nest by Kathy Radigan, shares her experience as a parent to a daughter with high support needs.

Note: First published on May 1, 2021, this Insight has been updated by Parent Up staff for May 2024.

How Medicine Safety Can Save Kids’ Lives Now and in the Future

Note: This insight was originally published on October 21, 2022 and has been updated along with its resources.

In light of the opioid epidemic and with fentanyl already in our communities, it’s more important than ever to teach our younger kids about medication safety. By being proactive now, we can reduce the number of accidental poisonings directly and lay a foundation to protect our kids well into their future.

It’s not too early to start with age-appropriate education about medicine safety. According to the Missouri Poison Center, students can begin to self-medicate around age 11. According to research, beginning preventative education with young elementary school children has been shown to reduce the likelihood of chronic substance use in high school, and communication is an essential part of keeping our children healthy and safe! 

Below are five actionable tips and practices about medicine safety we can implement now while our children are still young to help them make safe choices related to medicines when they grow up:

1. Teach your child that they should only take medicine from trusted adults. Make a list of who these people are and remind them of this often.

2. Model responsible medication safety by never sharing medications or using someone else’s medications. Continually reinforce this message with your child, explaining that they should never share medication or take someone else’s medication.

3. Keep medications in their original containers to avoid confusion with other medicines or candy. This is also important because each medication has its own dosage, warnings, and directions for use. One of the most common mistakes when it comes to medication is accidental double dosing.

4. Always store medicine in a safe place, such as a place only you know about or a high shelf that children can’t reach. Don’t keep medicine in your bathroom medicine cabinet where anyone can find it.

5. Participate in regular safe medication disposal. Keeping unused, unwanted, or expired medication out of the house entirely will drastically limit the risks to kids. This spring, the DEA’s Drug Take Back Day is on Saturday, April 27th, 2024, where people can safely dispose of their prescription pills. You can also find a list of our permanent local drop boxes in the Kansas City Northland here that are all year long.

Thank you for taking the time to have these conversations and reinforce these medication safety practices. Give this article a share and help protect all kids in our communities!

– Parent Up KC Staff

For more medicine safety tips for your family, check out Scholastic’s Medicine Safety Newsletter.


Download and share our one page handout
of this Insight on medicine safety!

More Resources:

– For talking tips for older kids and teens, read our local Parent Up KC Insight about fentanyl.
– For more information about fentanyl, read the warnings, tips and pictures about fentanyl straight from the DEA.
– Learn more about the DEA’s Take Back Day, held twice a year in April and October.

Making the Most of Dinners with Your Teen

Dr. Anne Fishel is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychology at the Harvard Medical School and the Director of the Family and Couples Therapy Program at Massachusetts General Hospital. She is the executive director and co-founder of The Family Dinner Project, a non-profit initiative based at Massachusetts General Hospital, that helps families online and in communities to have better and more frequent family dinners. She has lectured to parents, teachers, and health professionals about the benefits of family meals and written numerous articles about family issues for NPR, The Washington Post, Psychology Today, The Los Angeles Times, PBS, and others.
Her book about family dinners, Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun and Conversation for Happier Families and Healthier Kids, is available through Amazon. She is a co-author with The Family Dinner Project team of Eat, Laugh, Talk: The Family Dinner Playbook. This insight was originally written by Dr. Fishel for Parent Up in February 2022 and has been reposted.

“Of any age group, teens may have the most to gain from eating dinner with their families. Numerous studies over the last 25 years reveal that dinners can protect teens from engaging in a host of risky behaviors: smoking, drinking, getting pregnant, developing an eating disorder, and using drugs. Teens who dine with their families also report experiencing less overall stress, feeling more known by their parents, and having better relationships with them (CASA, 2012).”

“Why do family dinners offer such benefits? The simplest answer is that dinner is a reliable occasion for teens to feel connected to their parents. It is this connection that provides the real seatbelt on the potholed road of adolescence.

Dinnertime also creates the opportunity for parents to check in and monitor their teens’ behavior without putting their kids on the hot seat. Instead, questions about their day are softened by answering while enjoying a delicious meal, and by hearing about everyone else’s funny tales of the day.”

“The really good news is that when teenagers are asked to list the activities they most enjoy, family dinner is consistently ranked high on that list.”

“That said, teens can be sulky, irritable, prickly and challenging, and may not make the easiest dinner companions. Not only that, but their schedules may seem too busy to fit in regular dinners, what with sports practices, after school jobs, hours of homework, and heavy social media upkeep.

So, how can parents make dinner compelling for adolescents, and enjoyable for everyone else in the family? Showing up at the dinner table with certain parental attitudes may help:  Showing interest in your kids’ new discoveries (e.g. music, friends, favorite athletes, video games, etc.) without judging them; tolerating strong expressions of feelings; and talking in a more honest and self-disclosing way about your own lives, if these disclosures are relevant to your kids’ struggles.

Adolescence is also a time when kids are figuring out who they are and how they want to be similar to and different from their parents, and they have the brainpower now to engage in philosophical and abstract thought.  It is no wonder, then, that this is a time when kids may declare that they have food preferences that differ from their parents. Consider the New Yorker cartoon of two teenage girls talking. One says to the other: “I started to be a vegetarian for health reasons, now it’s just to annoy!” But this kind of questioning of pdxccarental values can also lead to rich conversations about things that matter.”

How to Keep Dinner as Lively as Your Teenagers

  • Agree that dinner will be off limits for discussing conflicts—no talk about homework, or whose turn it is to take out the trash, or a recent “D” on a math quiz, or how late the curfew should be on Friday night.

  • If possible, parents as well as teens should make dinner a technology-free zone. If this isn’t possible, then negotiate rules that everyone can agree to, such as: ‘We’ll only use our phones to resolve factual disagreements that come up at dinner’ or will only use it to play a game like Selfie Hot Potato.

  • If scheduling conflicts with dinner time, consider having a healthy after-dinner, take-a-break-from-homework snack. This might be frozen yogurt with berries, a bowl of soup, or cheese and crackers.

  • Initiate conversations about subjects that matter to you and to your children. Did you read an article in the newspaper today that confused, upset, or delighted you? Talk about it and ask for your kids’ reactions. Check out our Conversation of the Week blog for more ideas.

  • Offer to make a new meal, based on your teen’s interests—if they are studying Chinese history or Indian literature, check out and search for recipes by country. Even better, make that new meal with your child so that they can teach you something about another culture they know more about than you do.

  • Invite your kid to make a course or part of the meal, particularly something fairly quick (but special and dramatic) that will elicit “oohs” and “ah”s from the rest of the family. Popovers, fruit smoothies, or a vegetable or fruit no one has ever tried before (anyone for dragon fruit?) all do the trick.
  • Speak about your own experiences of the day in a way that is honest and self-disclosing, perhaps revealing something that was embarrassing or challenging. Or, repeat a joke that you heard at work.
  • Ask your teen to choose music for you to listen to during dinner. On other nights, you might play your own music, or play the music that you listened to when you were your child’s age. Both will give you something to talk about that may be of great interest to your teen.

  • Since adolescence is a time of increased exploration, buy cookbooks when you travel to new places, ask for recipes at restaurants, or from the parents of your child’s friends. Some of my favorite recipes are ones I’ve requested from a Chinese mother raised in Hawaii whose cooking my son raved about whenever he visited.

“Some of these suggestions may fall flat like a pancake. Others may get you only a few more minutes of conversation at the table. Still others may not work the first few times you try them. When it comes to parenting teens, persistence pays off, so don’t let a little pushback or negativity keep you from trying again.”

Watch the recording of Dr. Fishel’s Why Family Meals Matter webinar!

To watch for free, just register here:

The Northland Coalition Prevention Network and Parent Up hosted The Family Dinner Project for an engaging webinar for parents and caregivers on the benefits of family meals! Anyone can view a recording of the webinar by registering at Learn about the academic, mental health and nutritional benefits of family meals. Dr. Fishel discusses mealtime challenges and great strategies to overcome obstacles.  She motivates and empowers caring adults with games to play at the table that will spark conversation as well as tips to get kids to give you more than just a one-word answer.

Read Parent Up’s “Giving Devices a Seat…Away From the Table” Insight!

There’s incredible value in getting your family to sit down and have meaningful meals, but there’s a lot of things that get in the way. Check out our newest Parent Up Insight for tips on giving your devices a new seat away from the table!

Check out Parent Up’s free resources to help your family have more meaningful meals!

We make it easy to have more meaningful meals more often with your family on our Meaningful Meals page. Check it out!

Keeping Our Kids Merry and Bright Now and All Year Long

It’s the holiday season and here at Parent Up, we are intentionally celebrating the joy, creativity, and resilience of area youth. We also celebrate YOU, the parents, guardians, and other caring adults who are following along, learning, listening, and taking action, even when it isn’t always easy.

With the threats of deadly fentanyl, new discreet nicotine products, and the now-more-available-than-ever potent-THC packed cannabis posing risks to young brains, Parent Up is rounding out the year with some encouragement and tried-and-true tips for keeping our kids merry and bright now and all year long:

  1. Set no-use expectations when it comes to vaping, alcohol, marijuana, and other substances.
    Teen substance use harms the developing brain and puts youth at higher risk for mental health problems and addiction throughout life. Let’s ensure kids know we care about their health and well-being, and that’s why we want them to stay drug-free. You can do this without threatening by saying something like, “I really care about your health and safety, and I don’t want you risking that by vaping or using marijuana. Your brain is not done growing so it’s even more important at this time in your life that you don’t use any drugs like alcohol, nicotine, unprescribed pills, or marijuana.” Or something like this, “Friends around you might tell you that drugs or alcohol help with that, but I really care about you and want you to not use alcohol, vapes, or any marijuana to protect you now and in the future.”


  2. Be curious and keep the dialogue about substances open.
    Ask kids what they think or have heard about alcohol, vaping, marijuana, and other drugs. Be curious and open-minded about their experiences. It’s more important – and effective– to listen and discuss rather than to lecture. Ask them questions about what they think about marijuana. Ask them what they know or what they’ve heard about vaping at school or from friends. Finding out what our teens know and think about substances first helps us know where to start our conversations. Use “teachable moments” to start conversations too. Use public service announcements, stories on the news, TV plot lines, pop culture or current issues at school or in the community to spur on your conversations.

    There’s an important second part to this advice: Let kids know they can come to you or other trusted adults for help with peer pressure, stress, or anxiety. Kids need to hear that their well-being is a priority and that they have options for relief other than taking matters into their own hands.

  3. Prepare kids for peer pressure.
    Help youth gain confidence to say “no” to alcohol, marijuana, and other drugs by practicing scenarios and brainstorming what they might say if they’re offered to them. “What do you do if you are in a social setting and you’re uncomfortable with what is happening?” Or ask, “What if someone is offering you something — what are you going to say?” Practice this with teens, even if they groan at you and don’t want to do it. Even if you don’t get them to say the words, if you can say the words and at least put them in their brain, they will be more likely to use that strategy when the moment comes. We also recommend teens memorize the phone numbers of two trusted adults so they always have someone to call to get out of an uncomfortable situation, even if their phone is dead.
  1. Watch for early signs or symptoms of substance use.
    As parents and caregivers, we know our kids best so if something seems off, we should take action. General early signs of substance use could include: Changes in appearance, changes in friend groups, grades dropping, and/or secretive behavior. Find more specific early warnings signs for underage drinking, marijuana use, teen vaping, and prescription drug misuse on our
    Drug Topics page. If you need help for your child and are worried your child may be using alcohol or other drugs, the Partnership to End Addiction can help.

Our kids are more resilient and better off with your support. We wish you well this holiday season and into the new year.

 – The Parent Up Team

How To Talk To Your Teen About Marijuana (And Actually Get Somewhere!)

Whether you know it as marijuana, THC, cannabis, weed, or pot, one fact is clear: No amount of marijuana use is safe for youth. With more marijuana being sold and used in our community, it’s more important than ever we know the risks of youth use and protect them from early experimentation. Because teens’ brains are still developing, they are much more sensitive to the negative effects of marijuana use such as difficulties in learning, memory, and attention, increased anxiety and depression, and even addiction.

Teens who learn about marijuana and other drugs from their parents or caregivers, and know their no-use expectations, are HALF as likely to ever use these drugs compared to their peers. Parent Up is here to encourage and equip parents and caring adults to use their influence to prevent youth marijuana use, and these tips should help!

Setting the Stage for Conversations with Your Child

  • Try to put yourself in their shoes. Try to talk to teens the way you would want to be spoken to about a difficult subject. Practice refraining from judgement or anger, and instead be curious, calm, and listen with respect and empathy. Be curious and open-minded about their experiences. It’s more important – and effective– to listen and discuss rather than to lecture. Ask them questions about what they think about marijuana. Ask them what they know or what they’ve heard about cannabis at school or from friends. Finding out what our teens know and think about marijuana first helps us know where to start our conversations about the drug.


  • Keep an open mind, but a firm stance. We should make it clear to our teens that we care about them so we don’t approve of them using marijuana. We can tell our kids we don’t want them to risk their safety, brain development, or future, and we expect them to remain marijuana-free. Let’s express concern and set clear boundaries so they know where we stand. We are building a foundation for a relationship with our teens that is honest, trusting, and open, which is an important protective factor to safeguard them against cannabis and other drug use now and in the future.


  • Talk often! Talk often, talk often, talk often! These conversations are more likely to be successful when they take place more casually. For example, while we’re driving in the car, taking a walk, or washing dishes after dinner with our teens. Sometimes there’s even something in our environment that can spur a conversation, like when we drive past a smoke shop or we’re watching a movie with our teen that shows drug use. Taking advantage of these smaller moments and potential in-roads will help the conversation seem less threatening and more natural.

What to Say when Talking to Your Teen about Marijuana:

  • “There’s a lot of information about marijuana out there, but I want you to come to me with your questions.”
  • “If you’re concerned about your friends using marijuana, let me know and we can talk about it.” (In Missouri, more than 30.2% of youth had one or more friends who smoked marijuana (2022 Missouri Student Survey.)
  • “I’ve heard a lot of talk about marijuana recently, so I want you to know that it is never okay for kids to use. In fact, it’s illegal.”
  • “Your brain is still growing until your mid-20s and marijuana isn’t good for growing brains.”
What Your Teen Might Say: How You Can Respond:
"Ugh, again?! We've already talked about this!" “Yeah, I know we have, but it’s important to me that you know where I’m coming from and why I expect you to be drug-free. I care about you and love you. I want what’s best for your growing brain and body, so I’m going to check in with you sometimes or remind you of our rules because they keep you safe. I know you’re facing a lot of choices as you grow up and I want you to know where I stand.”
"Weed is safer than alcohol." “I’m not surprised to hear you say that because many people think that. But the fact is, there is no amount of safe drug use as a teen. Your brain and body are growing so much right now, and using any drugs during this time can have long term impacts on your brain and your health. Using marijuana as a teenager can also put you at greater risk of car accidents and making poor choices about sex or other drug use.”
“Marijuana is legal here now. Why would it be legal if it’s harmful?” “Many things are legal that can harm people, and especially kids and teens, like tobacco or alcohol. In fact, any drugs - including marijuana - can be more harmful to you than adults because you’re at a stage in life where your brain and body are growing so fast that it leaves you more vulnerable to addiction and the other harmful consequences of drug use.”
“I hear kids at school saying it’s from nature, so it can’t be harmful.” “I get that, but when you really think about it, that doesn’t make much sense. There are many natural plants that are harmful to humans like poison ivy, tobacco, and heroin, which is made from poppy flowers. Just because someone says it’s ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful.”
“Did you smoke weed when you were younger?” {Answer with the truth, but bring it back to the present.} “Marijuana was a much less potent substance when I was a kid and I am really not happy with the decisions that I/my peers made when I/they did smoke. When you’re high or stoned, the ability to make good decisions is questionable and because today's marijuana is so strong, the risk is just too high.”
“My friend only smokes weed on the weekends and he’s fine.” “I am glad your friend isn’t using it throughout the week, but I am worried because using any drug during the teen years can be really harmful to your brain. I don’t want you to do anything that can be harmful, that’s why I expect you to not use cannabis.”

For a free download of our one page handout of this information, click the button below!

Learn more about preventing teen marijuana use, and find more specific signs and symptoms of use, on our Marijuana page

How to Protect Our Kids from Deadly Fake Pills

In today’s rapidly changing world, it’s more crucial than ever to stay informed about the dangers that can impact our kids and teens. Two of those dangers are fentanyl and xylazine: Substances that are being put into pills that appear to be prescription or legitimate medicines, but are actually illegal counterfeit pills that can be deadly. 

Deaths caused by these poisonings are rising, which has led to the increase of unexpected loss of teens and young people in our Kansas City communities.

Fentanyl and xylazine are in our state, our city, and our communities. As adults, we need to take action today to protect our kids from these fake pills laced with lethal substances.

Continue reading to find out which pill is fake below. Photo from

What is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a synthetic (man-made) opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Only 2 milligrams of fentanyl, just a few grains of sand, can be fatal to an adult. This deadly drug cannot be detected by sight, smell, or taste. It can be impossible to tell if a pill is real or fake just by looking at it. Recent DEA lab tests revealed that 7 out of every 10 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose. This deadly drug is used by illegal drug makers to create fake pills that look like real medication. Prescription pills purchased online are often fakes made with fentanyl. Because of this, our kids may encounter fentanyl anywhere – online, at school, or on the street.

Two miligrams of fentanyl, a lethal amount for most adults. Photo from

What is Xylazine?

Xylazine is a non-opioid tranquilizer used in veterinary medicine, and is not approved for use in humans. It is often mixed with other drugs, most commonly fentanyl, to either enhance drug effects or increase street value by increasing weight. Like fentanyl, this drug is put into fake pills that look like legitimate pills by illegal drug makers. Prescription pills purchased online are often fakes made with fentanyl, and increasingly, xylazine as well. In fact, Missouri experienced a 180% increase in xylazine-related deaths from 39 deaths in 2021 to 109 in 2022.

The most worrying aspect of xylazine is that because it is not an opioid, life-saving Naloxone does not work on xylazine. However, it’s important to note that because xylazine is often used with opioids like fentanyl, naloxone should still be given for any suspected drug overdose or poisoning.

Local law enforcement has pulled together a drug task force to address supply and track down those that sell these incredibly dangerous substances and fake pills. The DEA is working these cases too and urging the media to get the word out.

How might our teens encounter these fake pills?

While it might be difficult to imagine your teen would ever experiment with pills, it’s important to acknowledge the very real reasons why teens may encounter or seek out pills:

  • The teen brain is experiencing every emotion very intensely as it grows and develops rapidly. Some teens may turn to pills to cope with stress, anxiety or depression.
  • Teens might be feeling pressure to excel in school or sports, and some may believe that pills can help boost their academic or athletic performance.
  • The teen brain is hard-wired to take risks. Some teens might experiment with pills to fulfill risk-seeking urges.
  • Some teens may think: “It’s medicine, so it can’t hurt me, right?” This misunderstanding of the dangers of taking pills not prescribed to them might give the false impression that it’s safe to try, especially if they see their family or friends doing so

If our kids are not warned, and given the support they need, they may think pills are the solution to their problems. The majority of teens and young adults who report misuse of prescription pills are buying or getting them from friends, family, and even acquaintances over Snapchat and other apps popular with teens. To teens, these are seemingly harmless transactions for a pill – maybe a “study drug” or “sleeping pill,” but they could lead – and have led to – unimaginably tragic consequences in our communities.

It can be impossible to tell if a pill is real or fake just by looking at it. Photo from

What Can We Do to Protect Our Kids?

Our goal at Parent Up is to support parents and caregivers in their efforts to keep kids from engaging in substance use. By taking steps to reduce pill misuse, we can reduce the likelihood that our teens would take a potentially fatal pill laced with fentanyl or xylazine in the future. We encourage parents and caregivers to use our 4Cs to prevent pill misuse in youth:

  • CARE: Educate yourself about the harmful effects of pill misuse, especially for kids and teens. Check out our Prescription Drugs page to start! We break down the most commonly misused prescription drugs by teens, the risks, and the warning signs to look for. We also have free helpful tools and resources for you to download, print, and share.


  • CONNECT: Connection is key to prevention! Kids who have stable, healthy relationships with adults are more likely to make safer decisions and live healthier lives. Learn more about simple ways to connect with your kids every day by watching this 14-minute TED Talk. Learn more about the amazing value of having regular family meals together by visiting our Meaningful Meals page.


  • COMMUNICATE: Talk to your child early and often about medication safety and have specific conversations about the dangers of misusing pills. Emphasize to teens and kids that they should never share their prescription pills with anyone and to never take anyone else’s pills. Take a strong stance against using any substance, including pills, to deal with your problems. 
    • Let your child know you will help them if they are seeking relief from anxiety or depression. Discuss the steps to legally and safely obtain appropriate medications from a doctor, if needed. Assure your child that their mental well-being is a priority and that they have options for relief other than taking matters into their own hands.
    • Practice what to say if they are offered something. These roleplays let your child know you support them and help give them confidence if a situation arises where they need to say “no.” You can also work with your teen to come up with a code word to text you if they feel like they need your help to get out of an unsafe situation.


  • CAREFUL ATTENTION: You know your child and what is or isn’t typical for them. Be on alert for changes in behaviors, friend groups, or attitudes. Take action if you see early warning signs of pill misuse. You can find these warning signs on our Prescription Drugs page.  
    • Keep track of which prescription medicines you have in your house and how many. Store prescriptions in a secure place only you know about. Don’t keep powerful prescription medicine in your bathroom medicine cabinet where just anyone can find it.
    • When you have unused, unwanted, or expired prescriptions, don’t keep them around your home. Keeping these types of medication out of the house entirely will drastically limit the serious risks to kids and teens! Dispose of these medicines at your nearest local dropbox location or make a plan for safe home disposal

Here are some other helpful resources too:

Click this image to download, print, and share our helpful fentanyl poisoning prevention handout!
Click this image to download, print, and share our helpful medicine safety handout!

Thank you for taking action today. Share this Insight and help protect area kids.

– Parent Up KC Staff

What are “Safe Risks” and How Can I Support Teens in Taking Safe Risks?

If you’ve ever said, “What were you thinking?!” to a teen, you’re not alone! Luckily, a basic understanding of teen brain development can help us as adults understand why teens behave the way they do, even if we’re not neuroscientists. And this understanding is crucial to guiding teens towards safe, healthy exploration and away from harmful risks like vaping. It might sound crazy, but it’s true: Our teens need to take risks as a part of their normal growth and development!

Why Our Teens Take Risks

As our teens grow up, the impulsive, risk-taking, and emotional center of the brain (the limbic system) and the logical, planning, and reasoning part of the brain (the prefrontal cortex) are in a race to the developmental finish line. The emotional system crosses first, leaving the reasoning and thinking portion of the brain to catch up. This makes the teen brain like a car with the gas pedal to the floor and no brakes: The limbic system is well-developed, acting as a powerful accelerator encouraging teens to take risks, act on impulses, and seek new experiences. But the prefrontal cortex is still in development, making teens less likely to stop and think things through, modify their behavior, or fully consider the consequences of their actions. The good news is that the prefrontal cortex does catch up later in life, closer to the age of 25 when our brains finish developing into adult brains.

Dr. Adriana Galván, an expert on adolescent brain development who runs the Developmental Neuroscience Lab at UCLA, found in her research that teens learn faster – and with better accuracy – than adults because of teens’ very active striatum – the reward center of the brain. This reward center is most active in the teen years and it’s very sensitive to rewards, enabling teens to learn new things much more quickly than adults, like learning a new language or how to play an instrument. And this makes sense for this time in life, right? The teen years are full of amazing learning and growth, about ourselves and the world around us! But Dr. Galván’s lab also found that teens with a more active reward center are more likely to take risks and to like it. This can spell trouble for teens if their risk-seeking brain is introduced to vaping (or other drug use). Dr. Galván poses this question in a great short video about the teen brain:

“Rather than ask how you keep your teenager from taking risks – because we know the brain is really oriented toward risk at this time – it’s better to ask, how do I provide opportunities for healthy risks?”

How We Can Help Our Teens Take Safe Risks

Now, with our teens’ remarkable brains driving their learning and exploration, we get to step in and guide them towards things that scratch their risk-taking itch, but prevent negative consequences to their health and safety. Safe risk-taking doesn’t put your child in danger, but it does require them to risk something — like failure or criticism. And there are great benefits to taking safe risks! Safe risk-taking can boost our teens’ confidence, leadership skills, planning skills, and can help them learn to resist their impulses – all important skills to learn and practice for adulthood! Here’s how you can start supporting teens in identifying and taking safe risks:

  • Talk to teens about their interests, passions, and their favorite things to do. Ask questions about what makes them happiest, what’s the most exciting thing they’ve ever done or can imagine doing, or what would they do if they had a whole day to do whatever they wanted. You can really think outside the box here! Do they enjoy sports? Does art excite them? Are they interested in music? Do they enjoy helping people or animals? These conversations will help you connect with your teen and also point you both in the right direction for your next step.

  • Help teens brainstorm some opportunities or challenges around their interests. For example, if your tween loves basketball, encourage them to try out for the team. If your teen enjoys painting, encourage them to enter a local art competition or display at their school. If they’re interested in music, maybe they can try out for the band this year, or audition for first chair if they’re already in band. If they love animals, challenge them to volunteer at an animal shelter weekly. If they have an interest in movies or TV, encourage them to try out for the school play, even if they’ve never acted before. There are so many possibilities! See what your child gravitates toward, then help them make a plan to get started!

  • Set teens up for success by supporting their needs where you can. Help your tween or teen think through what they’ll need to do this activity and ask them how you can support them. What equipment, tools, or materials might they need? How will they get to and from their activity? Who might they need to contact in order to get started? Whether it’s a ride to practice, an opportunity to shadow someone, or helping them buy materials, try to support them as best you can. Remember: Showing up to cheer them on or being a shoulder to lean on is free!

It’s important to note that we’re guiding and supporting our kids here. If they start to get off track, resist the urge to jump in and take over. If we give them too much help, it can negate the learning experience and their sense of control. Let them navigate through the process and follow up on how they’re feeling. If they are hesitant to try something new, you can talk about your own safe risk-taking successes and failures. Whatever the activity, our teens’ interest and passion will help drive teens to stick with it, even when things get tough. That being said, teens can change their interests as they explore the world and learn more about themselves. It’s okay if one of these ventures doesn’t pan out like they thought it would, there are always others to try!

To learn more about how we can help keep our kids safe from vaping (and all drug use) and prevent addiction, check out the rest of our website here at!

We Can Knock Out Teen Vaping For Good. Here’s How.

As adults, helping our teens make good choices can sometimes feel like stepping into the boxing ring, facing off against the challenges that threaten their well-being. One challenge that has become more prominent in recent years is teen vaping. But just like a boxer, you can learn skills to help “knock out” teen vaping in just a few rounds.

Round 1: Knowledge is Power

In this round, you’ll rely on your knowledge of the risks of vaping during adolescence, including: 

We also need to be aware of the new nicotine products that are being marketed to teens so we can keep an eye out for their ever-changing new forms. Having an understanding of why teens vape also shows us where there are opportunities to help and support our teens. Some of these reasons include influence from peers, a misunderstanding of the harmful contents of the aerosol produced by vaping, and coping with stress or anxiety. Equipped with this knowledge, you’ll be better able to help your teen understand the risks of vaping and guide them toward safe choices.

Round 2: Open & Honest Communication

Just like a boxer, teens need people in their corner who can provide strong support and guidance, and this starts with open and honest communication. Approach your teen with empathy and a willingness to listen, and know that you won’t always get everything across in one talk. Use these conversation goals to help guide you in your talks with your teen:

  • Make it clear that you don’t approve of them using any vaping products. Over 80% of 10-18 year olds say their parents are their biggest influence on their decision not to use substances.
  • Show teens you care about their health, safety, and success. Reinforce the reasons you expect your teen to stay vape-free – because you love them and want them to be happy, healthy, and safe. Explain to them that vaping is harmful to their developing brains and can lead to lifelong addiction.
  • Be curious and open-minded about their experiences. Ask them what they think, know, or have heard about vaping. Show them that you are a good source of information if they have questions. 
  • Keep the conversation going. Talk often with your teen about vaping. Take advantage of opportunities when watching movies, TV, and commercials together that feature vaping. Let them know that they can come to you for help with stress, anxiety, or peer pressure. 

Round 3: Strategize for Success

In boxing, strategizing for success means practicing and planning for what might happen in the ring. You can help your teen do the same by practicing and planning for the situations they might encounter in their day-to-day lives. Consider planning for things like:

  • Peer pressure. Practicing how to say “no” can help teens feel more confident and comfortable resisting if a friend or peer offers them a vape.

  • Daily stressors. Stress is a normal part of life, but teens need help learning how to manage it. Discuss what stressors might exist for your teen and brainstorm coping skills that can help them handle stress, such as spending time outside, getting adequate sleep, or positive self-talk. Be open to their suggestions and help them think through some ideas that will work for them.

Follow up often to see how these strategies for success are working, and help them adapt their plans as needed. Celebrate when you notice them putting these strategies into action! 

Round 4: Seek Professional Help

Boxers call on professionals to help them when needed, and you can too. If you’re worried your teen might be vaping, the Partnership to End Addiction can help. There are also teen cessation resources available from The Truth Initiative’s This is Quitting program. Teens can text “BREAKFREE” to 88709 for free, confidential tips and quitting advice delivered straight to their phone to help them quit vaping. If your child is vaping to cope with anxiety or depression, reach out to their primary care doctor or a mental health professional. 

By adopting a boxing mentality, we can get one step closer to knocking out teen vaping for good! For more resources and tips for keeping kids safe from teen vaping, visit our Vaping page here at!

Deadly Pills in the Northland: Time to Take Action

Law enforcement in our area are seeing deaths among Northland teens and young adults linked to pills that appear to be prescription pills or legitimate medicines. These illegal pills are laced with the deadly drug fentanyl and it’s impossible to tell which ones are counterfeit. Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is up to 50 times stronger than heroin and 100 times stronger than morphine. Just a few grains of sand worth of fentanyl can be fatal. These pills are being sold on the black market and there is no regulation of any kind. These teeny-tiny pills look harmless, but they’re far from it. They are here — in our Northland counties, neighborhoods and schools.

DEA lab tests reveal that 7 out of every 10 pills with fentanyl contain a potentially lethal dose.

Image Source: Kansas City Police Department

Before you think, “but not my child,” pause for a moment. The reasons teens might come across or seek out these pills are very real. Some teens seek help for sleep. Some think they will perform better in athletics or school. Some just want to take the edge off. Other teens seek out pills because they think it will help them with stress and pain. The anxiety and depression teens are feeling is tough. Some seek thrill and are willing to take the risk. They may think: “It’s medicine so it can’t be harmful, right?”  If our kids are not warned, they may think pills are the solution. Many of these deadly counterfeit pills are being sold over Snapchat and other apps popular with teens. To teens these are seemingly harmless transactions for a “pain pill” or something they believe to be Oxycodone, Percocet, Xanax or Adderall. But they could lead and have led to unimaginably tragic consequences.

Two milligrams of fentanyl, a lethal amount for most adults. (Photo from

Local law enforcement has pulled together a drug task force to address supply and track down those that sell these incredibly dangerous pills. The DEA is working these cases too and urging the media to get the word out. Treatment agencies are overwhelmed with the severity and doing everything they can to provide the support to those who are struggling with addiction.

Two milligrams of fentanyl, a lethal amount for most adults. (Photo from

Our goal at Parent Up is to support parents and guardians in their efforts to keep their kids from taking a fake or non-prescribed prescription pill or using other drugs.

Here are the tips we put out every 6 months or so, written by Kim Downs, a local parent and social worker. We love her take:

“As a parent, I urge you to take this growing issue seriously, and have specific conversations about it in your house. As a school social worker, I am hearing about this over and over. It is happening here and it is real.

Not sure what to say? Emphasize to your kids to never, ever take a pill from anyone or anywhere that isn’t prescribed to them by a doctor or out of its original container. Too many teens have the false perception that “medicine is safe, medicine can’t hurt me.” As caring adults, parents, and guardians, it falls to us to let our teens know the very real dangers of misusing prescription pills. Let your kids know where you stand. 

Let them know you will help them if they are seeking relief from anxiety or depression. Discuss the steps to legally and safely obtain appropriate medications from a doctor, if needed. Be firm that self-prescribing can be deadly, and that your child should never take any pills not prescribed to them by a doctor. Assure your child that their mental well-being is a priority and then make a plan to get help together. They need to hear from caring adults that they have options for relief other than taking matters into their own hands.

Practice what to say if they are offered something. These roleplays let your child know you support them and help give them confidence if a situation arises where they need to say “no.” You can also work with your teen to come up with a code word to text you if they feel like they need your help to get out of an unsafe situation.

They might groan at you. Have these conversations anyway.”

Kim Downs, local parent and social worker

Song for Charlie is a family-run nonprofit charity dedicated to raising awareness about ‘fentapills’ — fake pills made of fentanyl that are poisoning our teens. recommends you say this to your teen:
“You have to assume that any “prescription” pill you buy outside of normal channels is fake, and very possibly deadly. NO RANDOM PILLS!” (They made this short video that you can use in your discussion with your teen.)

Image source: Song For Charlie (

Download and share Parent Up’s one page fentanyl handout to keep our teens safe!

Download and share our one page handout for parents of younger children to keep them safe now and in the future!

Here’s some other resources we think are really helpful too: 

Thank you for taking action today. Give this article a share and help protect area kids.

– The Parent Up Team

Note: This post was originally published on November 18, 2021, but has been updated several times since to reflect more recent local conditions and resources.

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