It’s no surprise that as the Oct. 17 legalization of cannabis inches closer and closer, some parents have already attempted to navigate through approaching the issue of pot with their children.
Meanwhile, others may be at a loss with how to even start the conversation – let alone what to say.
Black Press Media spoke with Emily Jenkins from UBC’s School of Nursing, who was able to share a few tips that could come in handy when it comes to having the talk.
First make sure you, the parent, have done your homework
Over the decades there have been plenty of myths circulated around cannabis, and one of the worst things to do would be to perpetuate any misconceptions.
“It’s important for parents to educate themselves,” Jenkins said. “I know there’s a lot of misinformation about cannabis out there right now, so finding sources that are reputable and evidence based can be key.”
Jenkins suggested two resources: A tool kit for youth created by the Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and the federal government’s Cannabis Talk kit, which helps parents start the conversation with their kids.
Health officials, including the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction, recommend sharing a harm reduction-related message. That means messaging isn’t about not smoking pot, but instead about some of the risks and keeping a healthy relationship with cannabis.
Not driving stoned – or getting in the car with someone that is high, how cannabis can impact mental health and wellness and the risks of smoking pot too young or too often are all worth talking about, Jenkins said.
Ahead of starting conversation, Jenkins suggested that parents should set goals for what they want to achieve through the discussion and look to hear what their kid already might know.
“Be curious,” she said. “They’re doing their own exploring on the internet, too.”
Include younger children in the conversation
Deciding what age is appropriate to start talking pot is a tricky decision to make, but Jenkins said not starting the conversation soon enough can leave some children trying to sort out the facts on their own.
“Start early, and don’t wait for that conversation to the point where they’re exposed to it in their peer group,” she said.
Although parents need to tailor what to say and when to say it to their own unique child, Jenkins encouraged discussion to begin as early as elementary school.
“We know that cannabis use can start as early as elementary school, so equipping them to navigate that decision-making in a way that builds on what we know and potential harms is really important,” she said.
Even if you aren’t planning to dive into cannabis, it can’t be ignored
Some parents will pay no mind to Canada welcoming cannabis Oct. 17, but Jenkins said it’s best to be very cautious of the mind set that “none of my kids are going to do it.”
According to Statistics Canada data, roughly 23 per cent of kids ages 15 to 17 smoke pot.
“Don’t be afraid that by having a conversation about cannabis is somehow going to be condoning or encouraging it,” she said. “Recognize that young people are living in a context that use is widespread, so the earlier we can start talking about cannabis and potential harms, the better outcome we can see.”
Jenkins said youth having a place to go for open dialogue with their family is one of the key ways to reduce harm.
“They need to feel they can go to trusted people to talk about their decision making around cannabis.”
If you are planning to smoke up, still talk about the risks
Most resources out there are targeted to parents who don’t use cannabis, so what should those who plan to take part tell their kids?
“I think it comes down to what kind of messages are going to be appropriate for the family’s context,” Jenkins said, adding that the point of conversation is to keep kids safe.
This includes still looking to lower-risk cannabis use guidelines by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research which shares the 10 most notable effects it has on your health.
Make it an ongoing discussion
As Canadians of all ages navigate through how they plan to participate – or not – in legal recreation cannabis, the best things parents can do is keep the conversation going, Jenkins said.
“Don’t make it a one-off,” she explained. “Create context that there’s always a safe space for them to come to talk to you about cannabis use.”
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