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How to talk to your kids about cannabis


Recreational cannabis became legal across Canada on October 17th.  This has left many parents wondering if, when and how to start the cannabis conversation.

The reality is that despite it remaining illegal for youth under the age of 19 (or 18 depending on the province or territory) to purchase or consume cannabis, youth are already experimenting with it. In fact, according to the 2017 Canadian Cannabis Survey, 43% of youth between the ages of 16 to 24 reported using cannabis in the past year. Yet, many young people don’t know much about the plant outside of what they have seen in the media or learned through friends.  And the abstinence-based approach traditionally taken by schools, does not resonate with youth, leaving the onus on parents to start the conversation.

The good news, having a conversation with your child doesn’t have to be difficult. In fact, it can be a positive experience for both parents and children.  Studies have shown that open lines of communication not only encourage healthier choices when consuming cannabis (or any substance for the matter) but also set the foundation for other important conversations to happen.

The question now becomes – how do I start the conversation?  What’s the appropriate age to bring it up? Do you wait for your child to ask a question or do you initiate the discussion?

Just like any other important topic, there is no magic formula. Depending on our own perspective and experience with cannabis your conversation will also likely vary. With that said, there are some best practices to keep in mind: start young, stick to the facts, and let your kids lead the conversation.

Here are some tips to get the conversation started:

Before you start the conversation:

Before you jump into the cannabis conversation with your child, it is important that you spend some time thinking about what it is that you want to get out of the conversation and if you have used cannabis, how much you want to share about your own experience. Is the purpose to get ground rules, educate your child on responsible and irresponsible consumption, find out about their own experience or just create a safe space where they can come and talk to you about it?

Once you have an idea of what it is that you want to discuss, the next step is to spend some time educating yourself about cannabis. Personal opinions aside, keeping the conversation balanced and factual, focusing on both the positives (such as the medicinal benefits) and negatives, is critical for the conversation to be effective.

When to start the conversation:    

Here is the thing, there is no right age to start the conversation. But there are benefits to starting the conversation sooner rather than later. Having an open dialogue from a young age will allow you to develop positive connection with your child and share your expectations before they are exposed to it.

On average, kids will try cannabis for the first time by the time they reach 16, so beginning the conversation before adolescence is ideal. It’s never too early or too late to start. Given that cannabis will be legal mid-October, not having the conversation on the other hand can cause more harm than good

Starting the conversation

For many parents, the toughest part of talking to your kids about cannabis is starting the conversation. Instead of taking a formal approach take an organic one, like bringing the subject up as you see it on TV or hear a song about it on the radio.

Break down the barriers by asking open-ended questions about what they think about cannabis and how media portrays it. Listen attentively, let them lead the conversation and don’t get upset with them for being honest. Instead acknowledge their point of view and share yours.

Be honest about how you feel about cannabis and why, and if you are comfortable share your own experience. This can offer a broader perspective to your discussion. At the end of the day, you want to create a safe space where your child feels comfortable to ask any questions that are on their mind.

It’s also a good idea to keep the conversation balanced, especially when talking to teens. Chances are, your child will try cannabis, so instead of telling them it’s wrong, presents the facts, the risks involved and the ways to reduce harm – for example not getting high and driving or mixing cannabis with other substances.

Abstinence is another option but not the only one. Instead an approach based in harm reduction has been shown to yield more positive and healthy decisions about using cannabis amongst youth.

Don’t just start the conversation. Keep it going.

Talking to your child about cannabis is an ongoing conversation. As your child grows, begins to experience to new things, it is important to check-in and revisit the topic regularly.  The conversation has just started.

Next article: Age appropriate cannabis discussion starters for parents

Asal runs programs, social media and events for vulnerable and marginalized communities and has led the development and facilitation of many Toronto-wide initiatives to boost youth unemployment, women’s and LGBT visibility. 


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