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Lorber: Kids Aren't Confused

My sixth-grade son came home from school last week and told me he’d heard about the new law legalizing marijuana. “Don’t they have any idea how stupid that is?!” he said in his pre-teen voice that just oozed disdain for grown-ups.

My middle-schooler went on to lecture me on the ills of marijuana – expressing concerns that his teachers had pounded into him in elementary school. And I have to admit it, I was pretty proud of him, but then I had to explain why I’d worked so hard on this issue as a legislator. I started by explaining to him some of the nuances.

Lots of parents and politicians believe kids don’t comprehend nuance – and that because marijuana legalization issues are complicated, kids simply won’t understand them. Many even predict that once kids find out pot is legal, more of them will smoke it.

But in my conversation with my son, I explained how medical marijuana is important for its healing qualities, and discovered that this was news to him.

“Go on,” he instructed me. So I told him about the disastrous policy of prohibition, and how sometimes outlawing a bad choice like marijuana use can backfire and have unintended consequences, like putting money into the hands of criminals, diverting police time away from violent crime, and putting government in the tricky business of legislating morality.

Personally, I think many kids are better at keeping an open mind than many adults. And my son, to his credit, kept an open mind and gave me a fair hearing.

He understood that while I think smoking pot is a bad idea for him, I also think that for other reasons it shouldn’t be illegal for adults. He can grasp and hold both thoughts at the same time.

His ability to think critically relates to other issues as well. But too often, parents and lawmakers mistakenly assume that kids can’t handle complex subjects: like having condoms in schools while not promoting sex, or having needle exchange programs that don’t encourage drug use, or how outlawing discrimination against people who are transgender, doesn’t have to contribute to gender-confusion.

We adults may be confused about a lot of things, but that doesn’t excuse projecting our own fears onto our children. And I’ll give my own son credit for motivating me to think more critically.

Jason Lorber empowers and inspires teams at companies and non-profits through his business, Aplomb Consulting. He has an MBA from Stanford, and is a former Vermont state legislator.
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