With the federal government unveiling a plan to legalize marijuana before July, 2018, many parents are wondering how to talk to their kids and teens about the drug.
Should they tell their kids if they’ve tried it? Can they use it in front of them? Or would it be better for parents to tell kids to stay away from the drug altogether?
Joanna Henderson, a clinician-scientist in the Child, Youth and Emerging Adult Program at CAMH, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, says parents do need to talk to their kids about marijuana, but with three key ideas in mind:
- Start the conversations early
- Be honest and open
- Model the behaviour you want to see in your kids
Studies show that Canadians are already among the highest users of marijuana in the world, Henderson says. So it’s not surprising that most children already have some knowledge or exposure to pot by the time they reach their teens.
“About 20 per cent of high school students… will report having used marijuana in the past year. By the end of the high school, it’s about a third to a half, depending on where you are in Canada,” Henderson told CTV’s Your Morning on Monday.
For that reason, she says, it’s important to talk to kids about marijuana when they’re young, before their friends and peers influence their views, because too often, parents wait too long to have those talks.
At the same time, parents need to reflect on the messages their own behaviour sends about alcohol and drugs.
“It’s important to remember that, from the earliest ages, parents are teaching their kids about substance use. Whether it’s alcohol or marijuana, they model their attitudes through what they do and what they say,” she said.
“So the first thing is for parents to think about their own attitudes and behaviours.”
When it comes time to actually talking about drugs, Henderson says the best approach is an honest one in which parents acknowledge the realities and risks of the drug, just as they would do with alcohol.
“We really want parents to think about being balanced in their approach,” she said.
“Kids don’t respond well when we speak in absolutes and say: ‘This is the way it is. This is a terrible thing. Never do this.’ That doesn’t resonate for kids because they see adults using marijuana, they may have friends who use it,” she said.
When parents focus only on the negatives of pot, that can shut down the conversation and signal to kids that their parents are not willing to listen.
Ideally, she said, parents will set the ground rules for their expectations for their kids’ substance use, while also leaving the door open for discussion as they grow.