Young people are living in a time when they’ll witness one of the largest societal shifts towards cannabis in history. With legalization, increased normalization, and strides towards de-stigmatization being a part of how they’re growing up, their attitudes and opinions towards cannabis will certainly be shaped differently than that of their parents and grandparents.
Shifts in legalization and cannabis attitudes present an excellent opportunity for parents to have a new kind of conversation with their kids about cannabis. In generation’s past, approaches to cannabis were usually “thou shalt not”, with punitive consequences for kids if caught “smoking pot” with friends. The Reefer Madness mentality continued to make its way into classrooms and dinner tables, warning that cannabis was a bad drug to be avoided.
Mothers as the New Ally
Over coffee, one mother said, “I want my kids to be part of the generation where there is no stigma around cannabis,” highlighting the role of parents in shifting the conversation around the plant.
Proud cannabis mothers are emerging and “coming out of the cannabis closet” like this mother, those associated with Team Canndora, and industry leaders like Ozzie Ozkay-Villa of Oov Lifestyle, Jessie Gill of Marijuana Mommy, and so many others proudly waving their cannabis flags high.
Mothers are acting as a new kind of ambassador for the cannabis plant: “We are redefining what it means to consume this herb,” said Ozkay-Villa, “innovators are creating beautiful, discreet and safe ways to integrate the amazing benefits of cannabinoids into our daily lives.” It’s time to change the conversation.
This new kind of conversation starts with open dialogue and getting real about cannabis with your kids. Here are a few tips on how to talk about cannabis with your young children and teenagers in the new days of legal cannabis:
Listen More Than You Talk
With important talks, it's easy to fall into the role of the authoritarian lecturer listing off all the reasons they should stay away from cannabis.
Become a listener instead. Ask your child what they know about cannabis. Ask if they’ve had encounters with it, or what their peers are saying about it. Avoid making judgments about what they say by remaining open and actively listening to your child without distractions.
If your child discloses that they are using cannabis, find out why. Is it something they do socially? What made them want to try? How often do they use? How does it make them feel? Is it something that is beneficial to have in their life?
Most importantly, make sure this isn’t a one-time chat. As cannabis’ place in our societies evolves, it will bring up new topics for discussion. The conversation about cannabis with your children should never end.
Adapt the Talk to their Age
Children of different ages will have varying experiences or opinions about cannabis, which should be considered when approaching the subject.
Children under the age of 10 are most receptive to their parents and what they tell them at this age. It’s OK to acknowledge to a child that cannabis is used for both medicinal and recreational purposes, but that using cannabis is a privilege and shouldn’t be undertaken without knowing more about it and should not be used until adulthood.
In the early puberty years, the topic of cannabis may have come up in discussions with their friends. They may be entering the years of peer-pressure and may be faced with being asked to use cannabis. This is where you should prepare your child for the encounters they may have with cannabis. Provide them with the important facts about the risks of cannabis, and explain to them that when cannabis is misused, it can have consequences. Prepare them on how to say “no” when faced with peer pressure.
If your child is in their teen years, they may have had more exposure to cannabis, but will still be receptive to their parent’s talks. Be sure you highlight the risks of misuse at this age, especially in terms of the effects on the developing brain, and how cannabis misuse could affect them as they transition into the most important years of young adulthood.
Stress the Risks of Cannabis in Youth
It’s been long-understood now between those inside and outside the cannabis community that consumption of cannabis within the teen years can put people at risk for mental health disorders and schizophrenia.
It’s the responsibility of parents, schools, and the cannabis industry to help people understand the risks of cannabis as well as the benefits that have led to its legalization.
Read up about the studies that exist that examine the risk of cannabis on the developing brain, and have some real talk with your child about what that research means. Avoid taking the Reefer Madness approach to discussing risks and warnings. Frame this in the way that cannabis can only be beneficial to the human body when used properly and with care.
Explain Legal Cannabis Isn’t a “Green Light” to Light Up
Some children (and adults) could mistake legalization as an invitation to start using or exploring cannabis, seeing legalization as a seal of approval for its place in people’s lives.
Discuss the limitations of legal cannabis, and highlight that just because cannabis is legal, it’s not a total “green light” to begin using cannabis, as much as you want, and just anywhere. Legal cannabis doesn’t exist to bring out cannabis culture and have cannabis be part of everyone’s lives: it exists to regulate a substance that millions have been accessing for decades.
There are certain privileges and regulations attached to legal cannabis, and with those privileges come responsibility. Help them understand that legalization doesn’t mean “go nuts” and possibly misuse or abuse cannabis. Talk to them about the provincial or state laws that govern cannabis in your area, and be sure to highlight the restrictions on public use, possession, and cultivation, showing them that there is still criminality associated with operating outside the bounds of legal cannabis.
You better believe that during a talk about cannabis, a parent will be asked by their children if they’ve ever used it. Don’t hide your experience with cannabis. Tell them the truth about the context under which it came into your life, how you’ve used it, your experiences with it (good and bad!) and its place in your life now.
A cannabis using mother from Ontario stressed, “education, education, education – with a splash of honesty” as the key to raising kids in the age of cannabis legalization as a user herself. She added, “I don’t want them to give into peer pressure, as much as I don’t want to give in to parental pressure” as she discussed the balance of educating her children about the risks of cannabis use while being a long-time user.
If you are a regular cannabis user and your child finds out, it's important that families keep rules and boundaries around their cannabis use. It shouldn’t become a family event, especially when minors are involved. Keep your cannabis use and your kids separate and ensure that your stash is kept hidden and locked up in case curious kids want to get into their parent’s cannabis.
Have the Talk
Having the talk about cannabis is just as important as the talk about the birds and the bees, alcohol and other substances. Don’t shy away from this topic with your children. Cannabis will be a part of young people’s consciousness and communities more than it was in generations’ past, and we owe it to children to equip them with the vastness of knowledge that is available about cannabis as we have it. Let’s let our children be more educated than we were about cannabis.
Below are a few helpful resources to assist in this important discussion with your children:
- Talking to Your Children About Cannabis by Adrianne Wilson-Poe, D.: https://www.marijuana.com/news/2018/04/talking-to-your-children-about-cannabis/
- Cannabis Use and Youth: A parent's guide from Here to Help: http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/workbook/cannabis-use-and-youth-a-parents-guide
- Public Researcher Rebecca Haines-Saah gives parents advice: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/cannabis-marijuana-pot-talking-to-your-kids-1.4410429
- How to Talk to Your Kids About Marijuana by the Children’s Hospital Colorado: https://www.childrenscolorado.org/conditions-and-advice/marijuana-what-parents-need-to-know/talking-to-kids-about-marijuana/
- Cannabis Information Related Booklets for Parents for Purchase (out of Australia): https://positivechoices.org.au/drugs-a-z/cannabis/parent/
- Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy (CSSDP) – Sensible Cannabis Toolkit for youth (a partnership with Canopy Growth) can be downloaded here: https://cssdp.org/sensiblecannabistoolkit/
- Start Talking Now: https://www.starttalkingnow.org/
- Safety First: A Reality-Based Approach to Teens and Drugs (booklet for download): http://www.drugpolicy.org/sites/default/files/DPA_SafetyFirst_2014_0.pdf
- Cannabis and Schizophrenia: Harming or Helping? By Modern Leaf: http://modernleaf.ca/cannabis-schizophrenia-harming-helping/
- “What Pot Really Does to the Teen Brain” by Scientific American: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-pot-really-does-to-the-teen-brain/
- “Effects of marijuana on teens may be ‘overstated’ — Here’s why you should still be careful” on Global News: https://globalnews.ca/news/4157240/marijuana-teenagers-effects-study/
Looking for more great content? Watch the WWC Conference's Cannabis and Family Dynamics Panel to learn from the experts about all things parenting and cannabis.