Whether they’re newborns or adolescents, protecting kids from harm is basically a two-step process. We think about the ways kids could be harmed and then we take steps to reduce the chance that it will happen. In prevention science, this process is referred to as assessing the risks of harm and implementing protective factors that reduce the risks.

Parents know it’s often easier when kids are younger. We immunize them against the risk of childhood diseases. We childproof our home to reduce the risk of accidents. We provide a balanced diet, make sure they get exercise and sleep, supervise their playtime schedule, and schedule regular visits to the doctor and dentist. All these are protective factors that reduce the risk of harm.

The risk-protective factor strategy changes slightly for teens. Instead of taking full responsibility for protecting their teen children, parents need to encourage their teens to become active participants in protecting themselves from harm. Parents need to understand the risks associated with teen marijuana use and, most importantly, talk with their teens about what they will risk if they “try” marijuana.

Encourage your teen to become a partner in prevention. Let them know you still don’t want to see them get hurt. It’s what parents are wired to do.

20% of Rhode Islanders aged 12 or over said they used illicit marijuana during the previous year, the highest rate among the 50 states. Among 12- to 17-year-olds in Rhode Island the mean age of first marijuana use was 14.1 years.