News Reel

Teen Marijuana Use or Addiction?

Marijuana use among teens is on the rise. R&A Therapeutic Partners recently released this interesting article about the effects of teen marijuana use.

Marijuana has often been thought of as a harmless drug that does not lead to addiction. However, many recent research studies have determined that not only is cannabis addictive, but the teen marijuana addiction rate is a serious concern. One study in particular found that adolescents are especially vulnerable to addiction, emphasizing the need for early screening and treatment.

Prevalence Of Teen Marijuana Addiction

Researchers from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently examined data collected from 2015 to 2018 to determine the prevalence of specific substance use disorders among adolescents, teenagers, and young adults. Specifically, the team’s goal was to determine the rate of addiction after the first use of drugs, including cannabis, tobacco, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, and after the first incidence of misusing drugs such as opioids. They reviewed data for adolescents and teenagers aged 12 to 17 and for young adults aged 18 to 25.

The prevalence of lifetime substance use among the adolescent group in 2018 was 15.4% for cannabis, 26,3% of alcohol, and 13.4% for tobacco. In contrast, the prevalence of lifetime substance use for the young adult group was 51.5% for cannabis, 79.7% for alcohol, and 55.0% for tobacco. However, there was a higher prevalence of substance use disorders within 12 months of cannabis use among adolescents and teenagers than among young adults, which was consistent with the younger age being associated with a faster transition to addiction for cannabis as well as for prescription misuse.

The researchers found that 10.7% of youth between the ages of 12 and 17 were addicted after one year of cannabis use. After 36 months of cannabis use, 20.1% of the study participants in this age group met the criteria for addiction. Among the young adult group, 6.4% were addicted to cannabis within 12 months and 10.9% after 36 months.

Impact On The Developing Teenage Brain

Teen marijuana addiction is more concerning than may have been previously evident, as shown by the results of these and other studies. Particularly as the teenage brain is still developing, cannabis may have a significant impact on its growth and development, potentially causing long-term or possibly permanent adverse changes in the brain, according to the NIDA.

Some studies have suggested that regular marijuana use in teenagers is associated with altered connectivity and reduced volume of specific brain regions involved in a broad range of executive functions. Teen marijuana use has been known to impact areas of the brain such as memory, learning, and impulse control. In addition. there is growing evidence that regular use of marijuana can lease to increased mental illness among teens and young adults, including higher incidence of psychotic disorders. 

Marijuana As An Addictive Drug

Many other studies have shown that marijuana use does, indeed, lead to a substance use disorder and addictive behaviors. In fact, some research suggests that 30% of people who use marijuana may have a substance use disorder. According to these studies, individuals who begin using marijuana as a teenager, before the age of 18, are 4 to 7 times more likely to develop a marijuana use disorder than adults. The results of all of these research studies on teen marijuana addiction underscore the vulnerability of adolescents and the importance of early screening for substance misuse among young people.

Increased Potency Leads To Worse Consequences

In addition to the increased addiction rate among adolescents and teenagers, studies have shown that exposure to THC, the main psychoactive compound in cannabis, is associated with an altered reward system, which increases the probably of seeking out other drugs such as opioids. The potency of the THC in marijuana has steadily increased over the past few decades, which could lead to a higher level of addiction and potentially more serious health effects from marijuana and other drug use. In the early 1990s, the average THC content in marijuana was 4%. In 2018, it had increased to more than 15%. This increased potency, combined with the use of high-THC concerns, could lead to much worse consequences among marijuana users, particularly among adolescents and teenagers whose brains are still developing. Questions remain about the full extent of the consequences and whether the recent increases in emergency department visits for marijuana misuse might be related to the increased potency levels.

If you have a loved one struggling with marijuana usage, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Social Media & Racial Injustice

Social Media has positives and negatives. When it comes to current events it can have a significant impact and influence on kids and teens. Screenagers discusses the impact it can have and how to speak to kids about it.

Talking with our kids and teens about media, social media, and the immensely important issue of racial injustice is so critical right now. How do these platforms bring us together to find solutions? How do they fracture us and make finding solutions harder? 

Examples of  positives of social media and the internet right now

As a past researcher in communication science at UC San Francisco, I am focused on how we can best talk with young people that will engage them the most. It is clear that when we talk about the positives of social media, they feel much less defensive and more open to talking about all sorts of other related topics. 

Youth tell me that they are so appreciative of many aspects of social media right now. My daughter and five other teens last week told me almost exactly the same thing — on Instagram, in particular, they are learning so much, finding ways to help with such things as petitions to sign, ways to donate time and resources, help educate others, and they feel connected to something that is incredibly important. 

So if you have youth on social media, it can be great to put on your curiosity calm cap and see if they would not mind sharing a bit of one of their sites with you. I suggest seeing if they will show you things for at least a few minutes every day or every other day as a way to foster conversations right now.  I have been doing this with Tessa, and I love sitting by her side as she shares and teaches me about what she sees, what she wants to be changed in our world, actions she is taking, and more. 

My family and I are talking about topics such as the many unjust policies and laws that have been passed over the years; the importance of crisis intervention teams to help get people with severe mental illness treatment, not imprisonment; and what kinds of changes can and should happen in police forces across the country. 

Access to biographies at our fingertips over the internet means that my family has been able to learn about and then discuss different ways racial injustice manifests itself in society. Over the past two weeks, we have read, watched films, and talked about people such as Sam Cook, Nina Simone, Malcolm X, and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, an American-Canadian middleweight boxer who was wrongfully convicted of murder and served 20 years in prison. His story involves a 17-year-old boy who started visiting him in prison, which gave Mr. Carter new hope. Carter’s story was made into a film starring Denzel Washington. Of course, we also talk about the tragic killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and the many others.

Examples of  the negatives of social media and the internet right now

As a possible discussion topic, I want to share data from Common Sense Media’s “Social Media, Social Life” reports. The reports were based on two surveys of nationally representative samples of over one thousand teens in the US age 13 to 17 — first in 2012 and then in 2018.

One survey question was about how often young people encountered hate speech, such as racist posts online. In 2012, 43 percent said they often or sometimes see such posts. In 2018 that number went up to 52 percent.

That increase is very concerning — especially considering it’s likely even worse than reported. In 2012 the survey question asked about all online content while in 2018, it focused only on social media, missing other racist content on web sites, chat rooms, etc. So the percentage of 2018 would most likely have been higher had the original question been asked again.

One significant difference in the data by ethnicity is that black teens were more likely than white teens to say they “often” encounter racist content online (19 percent vs. 9 percent). That is a really important point to discuss. For example, how often are things posted that are offensive, but people have not learned why that would be the case? What have your students learned in school, anything about racial issues? 

Another negative of social media and the news that is important to discuss right now is how to know what can be trusted. We are exposed to things all the time ranging from totally true, to pretty accurate, to blatant lies. How to know the difference? 

Here is one recent example. My local newspaper, The Seattle Times, discovered that another news agency, Fox News, put up three photos that were digitally altered. The photos had to do with a section of a neighborhood, in our city, where peaceful protests are happening for Black Lives Matter.

One photo had a destroyed building with a man with a gun in front. That did not happen. The window with the broken glass was from a completely different day.  

This is what the Seattle Times said: “The image was actually a mashup of photos from different days, taken by different photographers — it was done by splicing a Getty Images photo of an armed man, who had been at the protest zone June 10, with other images from May 30 of smashed windows in downtown Seattle. Another altered image combined the gunman photo with yet another image, making it appear as though he was standing in front of a sign declaring “You are now entering Free Cap Hill.”

Once The Seattle Times uncovered them, Fox News took them down. 

News gets posted fast, and, of course, there are errors in reporting all the time in all news outlets and social media posts. It is so important that we talk about things like, When is it purposeful? When is it an oversight? When is it because that stories are unfolding and rumors are flying? 

I end by saying, I am constantly moved by conversations these days with young people, and I seeing them work tirelessly to help make positive change. 

Ideas for conversation starters:

  1. What are some of the benefits of social media right now?
  2. Are there things you see on social media or in the news that you are sure are incorrect? Or, sure is correct? How do you know what to trust as true?
  3. What do you think about the survey findings discussed above?

If you have a loved one struggling with social media usage, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Back to School Organization

Parents, the school year is back! This year will have its challenges, but you are ready – and with a little extra preparation we’re confident it will be a success. Below are some tips sent to us by Todd Lemoine team whether kids go to school in person or virtually.
Build an ultimate homework station.   “In order to organize a powerhouse homework station, you must first understand the needs of the child or children,” says Jessica Kennedy, productivity and organizing professional. “Organize the necessary tools and supplies in bins or baskets, and color code them if they’re being used by multiple children. Label every bin and basket. Assign a spot to display artwork or notes of encouragement. Be sure the space is well lit!”

Stay connected.   Download a family calendar app (like the Cozi Family Organizer) to keep everyone’s schedules straight and color-coded. Plus it allows for shared reminders and editable shopping lists, so you’ll never forget when it’s your turn to bring snacks to soccer practice again.

Plan dinners in advance.   Busy families can save major time and money by preparing their dinners on Sundays instead of resorting to takeout. Plus, knowing what’s for dinner will leave you one less thing to worry about during those crucial, post-school hours.  

File everything.   Create a “home file” for the year with a file box or a cabinet drawer. Each class gets its own color-coded file for easy searching. Not only does this system give kids a place to unload past assignments, it also helps them organize reference materials (e.g., a periodic table of elements) as the semester changes.

Start a supply stash.   You know the feeling — it’s 9 p.m. and you’re out of posterboard for your son’s project that’s due at 8 a.m. Prevent future late-night freak-outs by refreshing the store pile: markers, index cards, and so on. You can also save cash by buying products in bulk.

Post the Schedule Where Everyone Can See It It’s helpful to have the big events posted, where everyone can see the shape of the week at a glance. Use a dry-erase board, a chalkboard, or even index cards hung from a clothesline with clothespins. Use a different color marker or chalk for each member of the family.  

If you have a loved one struggling with school, please contact Tamara Ancona, MA, LPC at (678) 297-0708 for an evaluation, and to discuss the best treatment options available.

Is Modeling Screen Time a Myth?

Parents are a child’s first model. Does that work with screens as well? Screenagers explore if this is true or a myth below:

For years parents have said to me, “I know I am part of the problem. I should be modeling screen time better.” 

I first respond by validating them in some way, such as, “It is really great that you are thinking and talking about this issue of modeling screen time. It is so important.”

Then, my next response often surprises them. Rather than say something like, “Yes, yes, I know we all need to do that better,” I gently point out that there is a major problem with the goal of “trying to model better” — the problem lies in the ambiguity of the goal — ambiguous goals never go well. 

So much of what I do as a doctor is helping patients recognize and try to change unhealthy behaviors. Issues around behavior change are something I have been fascinated with and researching for years. One fundamental aspect of behavior change is choosing a definable and reasonable goal. 

So to parents, I say, rather than having a vague goal like, “I should model screen time better,” pick a specific goal, and then model how you are going to try to reach that goal. Helping youth learn skills around behavior change through one’s own efforts is such a valuable gift to them. 

For example, I had a habit of reflexively going onto my laptop to work after dinner. Did I really want to do that almost every night of the week? No, I didn’t. Furthermore, I did not want to model this for my kids. 

I wanted to change my behavior. So, I decided that every Tuesday I would try to not go back on screens after dinner, and, instead, treat myself to a creative and relaxing evening. I wanted to make earrings and be more available to my family. On the first Tuesday, I completely forgot, and automatically went on my computer. The next Tuesday, I did not do enough prep, so I still had emails I needed to write. 

When I failed on those first few Tuesdays, I shared my failure with my kids. I told them about my setbacks, and the actions I would do to try to prevent future failures. After the first week, I put a big reminder on the refrigerator. For the second week, I put a note on Tuesday morning’s to-do list to finish all emails before dinner. 

We were all able to laugh at my setbacks, and I was happy to ask them to help me remember my goal.

A goal can be even something like changing the type of shows one decides to watch. Last week, for example, my husband announced to the family that he decided to stop watching the crime-drama, Ozark. He told us the reason he was stopping was that it was adding to his feelings of the bleakness about the world. He said that he didn’t like how the show made him root for people that he did not feel good about cheering for. So, to replace that activity, he planned to start a new book. 

Examples of parents setting specific goals

Over the years, parents have told me about screen time behavior changes they wanted to make. They told me variations of the examples I give here. 

After checking my email, my goal is to turn off the Wifi on my computer for 1 hour each weekday morning, so I can get my writing done and not get tempted to check my email. 

I am going to try to resist checking my phone when we are setting up for dinner and at the table, so I get to talk with my family in a more connected way.

My goal is to take a full weekend off of screens one weekend this month and see how I feel afterward. 

I plan to no longer have my phone in my room at night, just like I have decided I don’t want my teens to have theirs. 

I plan to delete my favorite sports app off my phone because I check it too often. I want to see if I can keep it off permanently and only look up sports on my computer. 

A model for effective behavior change that I love

If you have a change that you would consider announcing and trying, there is a model for behavior change I love in Joshua Klapow’s book, “Living Smart.” 

The one from Living Smart goes like this:

S = Set a reasonable small, and actionable goal.

M = Monitor your progress by doing something like noting on a calendar each time you succeed.

A = Arrange for success like I did when I put my beading tray on the kitchen table Tuesday mornings. I knew exactly where it was, and I was ready to go that evening when my screen-free night arrived. 

R = Recruit people to help hold you accountable. I told my kids, husband, and some friends about my goal and asked them to ask me about it now and then. Wanting the ego lift of being able to report success, gave me some extra motivation. Honestly, though, knowing my kids were witnesses to my attempts was the strongest motivation. When I slipped-up, I asked them for their suggestions of what I could do, and they loved giving me advice. 

T = Treat. My favorite part! Choose a personal reward you value, like having a special dessert. All the data shows that sustained behavior change comes when we get rewards for our change. For example, if one does not like the gym where they do the elliptical, over time, they will stop going. But if they allow themselves to watch their favorite show, only when they are on the elliptical, it can be enough of a reward that they stick with it. Or, they get the reward that they actually start to enjoy the movement of an elliptical. 

I don’t mean to say in this blog that modeling screen time is not important or doable — of course, it is both important and doable. But modeling is complex and is a superb topic to be discussing with your kids. Let me give you an example. If a family has a rule that devices are put away at mealtime, it would be a real disconnect if a parent sat on their phone night after night at dinner. If now, and then, the parent has to step away from dinner for an urgent work call, then ideally the parent would say something like, “I am sorry, I have to take this call for work — but I will tell them I will call them back shortly.” This parent is doing a great job of modeling even though they have actually “broken the rule.”

And how did it turn out for me on Tuesday nights? The habit did take hold for a couple of months, and then I decided that I didn’t want to do it anymore. I do continue to work to take nights off from my screen though. 

Ideas for conversation starters:

  1. How do I model screen time? What messages do my actions with my devices signal to you?
  2. Have you seen me try to change a habit, screen time, or others?
  3. What do you think of the SMART approach to behavior change?
  4. Is there anything around my screen time habits that you think I should consider changing? 

Fake Identities and Real Concerns


This weekend I was hit hard by a disturbing article in The New York Times (NYT) about kids targeted by sexual predators via direct chats and in multiplayer video game chat rooms.

In a chat, people with bad intentions can pretend to be any age. They can say they are a friend-of-a-friend as a way to enter the chat. Children are susceptible because they are unsuspecting, and by the time they may realize something is not right, shame and threats may already be in place to keep them quiet and scared. 

People have been reporting problems much more frequently than just a few years ago. According to The New York Times article: “Six years ago, a little over 50 reports of the crimes, commonly known as “sextortion,” were referred to the federally designated clearinghouse in suburban Washington that tracks online child sexual abuse. Last year, the center received over 1,500. And the authorities believe that the vast majority of sextortion cases are never reported.”

These predators connect to kids who play games like Minecraft, Fortnite, and any game that has a chat function, slowly “grooming” their victims (“grooming” is such a creepy word—which is fitting— and refers to a perpetrator working to gain a child’s trust with the intent of doing sex related crimes).

 Things to know:

  1. Criminals pretend to be teens and start conversations. I learned from the NYT article that often they pretend to have emotional hardships and use that as a way of building the relationship. I find this so disturbing. 
  2. They might buy gaming currency, like Fortnite V-Bucks, for the kids.
  3. Their goal is to try to get sexually explicit photos and videos to use as blackmail for more imagery.

This kind of extortion happens with many games. A Seattle man was convicted for posing as a teen and getting explicit photos from boys via Minecraft and League of Legends. 

The NYT article reports how Roblox, a game for small children, allows players to chat with others. Youth are socializing online through the chat functions on the games themselves but also on third-party chat sites like Discord and Omegle (whose tagline is Talk to Strangers), where interacting with strangers is the norm. Discord is a chat feature with text, video, and voice chat to meet up “live” while gaming. Once predators establish a “trusted-relationship” in an open space chat room, they will try to move these interactions to private conversations on platforms like Kik and Facebook Messenger. 

As parents, teachers, and counselors, let’s be proactive by having conversations about warning signs and red flag behaviors before our youth get targeted. It is critical to consider how we can engage our kids in productive conversations, without making them too anxious and without coming off as too anxious ourselves. 

  1. Being strategic with our kids when we talk to them about these topics is vital. Start a conversation with the assumption that your child is doing the things you have asked, such as only interacting with people online that they know in real life. But then, verify, using a tone that assures them that your main goal is to reinforce safety, not impose punishment. (Yes, there may be consequences, but when they tell us the truth, praise them, rather than focus on the breaching of a rule. This way you will get more honesty in the future.) 
  2. We don’t want them to think we think this is happening everywhere and all the time. It’s not. But it is about letting them know that this is a risk and we need to all work together to think deeply about how we prevent and stop suspicious activity.
  3. These risks are serious, and can even be life-threatening. I spent time with Carol Todd whose daughter Amanda tragically died by suicide after ongoing, online sextortion. It was an awful story that you may have heard about. When I visited her in Canada, we talked for hours. She showed me her daughter’s room. We hugged and shed tears. She has done tremendous advocacy work for online safety and mental health and I was happy to be able to help in one of her advocacy activities years ago. She is a true hero of mine. (The adult man who was doing the sextortion is behind bars.)
  4. Something I find helpful is to foster a discussion about these topics with your kid and someone they play video games with, and that person’s parent. Start a conversation about these topics, working to engage the youth. Try to shift the conversation from what they are playing to the more significant discussion around the issues, all the while weaving in the points you are trying to convey. You might say something like, “I imagine the parents of such and such kid were so glad their child told them what was going on. I know the parent might have wanted to throw away all their games, but hopefully, instead, they talked about how to find balance and safety so that safe gaming could still happen.” 
  5. Talk to other parents. It’s so important to find out ways they are trying to promote safe video games too.
  6. Take some time to learn about the games your kids are playing, and about the chatting apps. Then, let your kids know the type of info that you have gleaned and ask if what you learned sounds accurate or not. 
  7. And SO IMPORTANT, occasionally play video games with your kids. Participating is a great way to see what is happening in chats. They might not want you to play because there can be swearing and such, but if you say to them, something like, “I know there may be language I don’t like, but I promise to hold my tongue. I want to look through a small window into your video game life because I know it means a lot to you.”

Here are a few questions to get the conversation started:

  1. Do you like to “chat” while you game?
  2. How do you determine with whom you chat?
  3. If you are in a group chat and someone invites someone you don’t know, how do you make sure they are who they say they are?
  4. On social media, how much chatting happens with people that people don’t really know? 
  5. Question for youth:  If you were leading a group of younger than you students in a discussion about this topic of online safety and chat situations, what would you say to them. ** If your teen would be willing to share this with me, I would love to hear it, and with permission, anonymously post.