In the post-legalization era in Canada (and beyond), cannabis has become a more visible part of communities and households.
This dramatic shift is causing many adults to seek out new strategies for communicating with young people around cannabis and its related issues.
Are you a parent or adult who is struggling to figure out the best way to talk with the young people in your life about cannabis?
Here are some tips from experts (and from young people themselves!) about how you can initiate an authentic, honest dialogue about cannabis with your kids.
Legislation helps protect young people from cannabis exposure, but dialogue is still key
One of the Government of Canada’s stated purposes within the Cannabis Act (which legalized adult-use recreational cannabis when it came into law in October 2018) is to “prevent youth from accessing cannabis.”
Canada’s legalization policy was built upon the central premise that the best way to keep cannabis away from young people is to distribute it via adult-only retail stores and websites.
To achieve the goal of reducing young people’s exposure to cannabis, the Cannabis Act legislation includes multiple rules and prohibitions specifically designed to protect kids.
The Cannabis Act expressly prohibits:
– Products that are appealing to youth
– Packaging and labeling cannabis in ways that appeal to youth
– Selling cannabis through vending machines or other unsupervised channels
– Cannabis promotions that could entice young people (unless the promotion takes place in a space where young people are not allowed)
Of course, GreenSeal Cannabis Co. is 100% supportive of Health Canada’s goal of protecting children and youth from exposure to cannabis.
That being said, and although these rules are in place to prevent young people from being exposed to (or influenced by) legally-obtained cannabis, we all know kids and teens will very likely come across it; perhaps on the street, at parties, or even in their own homes.
Now that cannabis is legal, many parents (including those who legally consume cannabis as well as those who don’t partake) are feeling the need to have a conversation with their kids.
A lot of parents who grew up in the pre-legalization era never had an open conversation with their own parents about cannabis due to stigma.
Stigma continues to serve as a barrier to engaging young people in open and honest conversations about cannabis.
Overcoming stigma by creating opportunities for honest, open, and ongoing dialogue with the young people in your life is the first and most important step when it comes to talking to kids about cannabis.
Abstinence vs. Education: Knowledge is Power
When cannabis was illegal, if a conversation between parents and kids happened, it was often short.
It was all-too-easy for parents to simply tell their kids to obey the law and stay completely away from cannabis for their entire lives (or risk criminal consequences!).
Although total abstinence might have been a convenient message to communicate to young people, the statistics show that pre-legalization, 13% of Canadian youth aged 15 were using cannabis (the second highest rate in the entire world according to the World Health Organization).
By the time Canadian students reached Grade 12, over one third (36.9%) reported using cannabis in 2017.
Although non-medical cannabis remains completely illegal for anyone under any given province’s drinking age, building healthy attitudes and behaviours around cannabis use is something that can be initiated long before a young person reaches the age of majority.
One really helpful resource for adults to prepare themselves for initiating an ongoing dialogue with their children was created based on key input from young people themselves.
Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) is a grassroots organization empowering young people to participate in creating guidelines promoting education which is based on evidence and the philosophy of harm reduction.
The organization’s activities include the creation of the super-handy resource entitled Sensible Cannabis Education: A Toolkit for Educating Youth, which encourages adults to equip young people with knowledge and skills rather than focusing on abstinence:
“Young people have a right to honest drug education, which in turn impacts how equipped they are to make choices around their health. It is not enough for drug education to simply focus on abstinence in an effort to prevent young people from using cannabis. Comprehensive drug education must provide honest, age-appropriate information, which will ultimately arm young people with the skills necessary to take personal responsibility for their health and decision-making.”
Youth consider accurate, evidence-based information about cannabis and other controlled substances as a right they are each entitled to.
If we, as adults, choose to deny our kids that right then we can’t realistically expect them to make informed, healthy choices when they inevitably encounter cannabis.
OK, you’ve decided to start a dialogue with your kids. Now what?
To support Canadian parents who want to initiate dialogue about cannabis with their kids (but don’t know where to start), the non-profit Drug Free Kids Canada.org has published anotThe Cannabis Talk Kit is specifically designed to help parents talk with teens, and gives some useful advice on how to set the tone for productive conversations:
Keep an open mind. Don’t judge or condemn your child when they are being open and honest, even if you don’t approve of what they’re telling you. If they feel judged, they will shut down and be unreceptive to your messages. Be objective and stay open.
Put yourself in their shoes. Try to remember how you felt when you were a teenager talking about difficult subjects. Ask yourself how you’d like to be spoken to in such a situation and offer them the same courtesies.
Be clear about your goals. Work with the young people in your life to develop age-appropriate goals together. Agreeing on common objectives is more effective than imposing rules.
Stay calm and relaxed. Entering into this important conversation with a tone of anger, panic, or anxiety will be counter-productive to the goal of establishing a level-headed conversation.
Keep it positive. Shaming and scare tactics reinforce the barrier of stigma, so make the effort to stay attentive, curious, respectful, and understanding.
Engage, don’t lecture. When a young person feels they are being spoken down to, they often choose to tune you out. Create dialogue by asking them to offer their point of view on whatever you’re talking about. Use open-ended questions and don’t interrupt them.
Find a comfortable setting. Initiate the conversation casually, for example when you are taking a walk together or sitting together in the park. Announcements (e.g., “We need to have a talk after dinner”) can cause nervousness and knee-jerk resistance.
Be sensitive to body language. Sit down together with your teen when it’s time to talk rather than standing over them. Avoid finger-pointing and crossing your arms since these are perceived as closed gestures.
Focus on positive choices
Another strategy offered by CSSDP for avoiding stigma and making the most of the “cannabis conversation” is to avoid focusing on negatives, and instead emphasize positive choices.
Here are a couple of excellent suggestions CSSDP recommends sharing with young people with the goal of reducing harm when and if they choose to consume cannabis:
Avoid mixing cannabis with alcohol or tobacco. Using cannabis with tobacco increases risks and potential for smoking-related harm. Using cannabis with alcohol increases the level of impairment and therefore increases the potential for harm.
Don’t drive high (or travel with a high driver). Driving while impaired by cannabis increases the risk for accidents. Use public transportation, or call a cab, friend, or parent to avoid driving or getting into a car being operated by someone who is impaired.
You don’t need to wait until they’re teens to start a dialogue about cannabis
Younger kids can also benefit from learning about cannabis from their parents or a trusted adult.
Explaining exactly what cannabis is and how to identify it is a good starting point for initiating dialogue with younger children.
Making a distinction between cannabis used for medical purposes and adult-use recreational cannabis is another good conversation to have early on in the dialogue.
Once they understand what cannabis is, you can educate them about the legal age for consumption, why it was established, and the importance of respecting the age limit.
Health Canada emphasizes the importance of making young people aware of the scientific evidence proving cannabis use can damage and impair the normal healthy development of young brains.
If you find it particularly difficult to initiate a cannabis conversation with pre-teen children, there are a couple of good books available.
We included the book It’s Just a Plant by Ricardo Cortés on our list of the Top 10 Best Cannabis Books for Gifting back in December.
The book follows a young girl and her family as they interact with the cannabis community, embodied by the characters of a local farmer, a doctor, and a police officer.
It’s Just a Plant does not advocate for cannabis use among young people. It actually does the opposite by addressing potential harms associated with drug abuse and reminding kids that trying recreational cannabis is an experience reserved for adults.
Susan Soares is a grandmother and medical cannabis user who set out to create “a book to help grownups talk about cannabis with children.”
Her book, What’s Growing in Grandma’s Garden, is told from the perspective of a curious young boy.
When he asks about the special plants growing in Grandma’s greenhouse, she explains “You can look, but you can’t touch.”
When he asks why, she explains how children’s brains are still growing, which is why cannabis is for adults only.
Although the book isn’t available commercially at the moment, those who contribute $50 to support the production of the book will receive a copy when it’s published.
Talk to your kids about cannabis
GreenSeal Cannabis wholeheartedly supports the Cannabis Act’s priority to prevent youth from accessing cannabis.
Rather than hiding the existence of cannabis from young people, we also agree with the recommendation from Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy to provide evidence-based education based on the philosophy of harm reduction.
When young people are equipped with the knowledge they require to make healthy decisions, their risk of harm is reduced.
Whether they’re teens or younger children, there are always opportunities to initiate ongoing dialogue and conversations.
Do you have any tips for parents who are trying to start a conversation with their children about cannabis?
If so, let us know in the comments below!