Discussing cannabis with your child

The wide media coverage of the legalization of cannabis in Canada provides a rich opportunity to have discussions about cannabis with your child. Every time a story appears in the media, you have an opportunity to explore the issues. You will gain insight into your child’s thoughts and feelings about cannabis, and they will learn how you process information and make decisions. These conversations allow you to correct any misconceptions and share your own ideas and values. For example, youth need to be aware that possession and use by people under 19 is still illegal. They need to understand the potential benefits and harms of cannabis use and develop skills in making decisions. Learning about your choices, expectations and reasons can help them develop capacity in managing their own lives.

How can I promote my child’s well-being?

There are several strategies you can utilize to help youth safely navigate their exposure to (or even use of) cannabis. It is important to remember the many reasons youth use cannabis and to understand the interests and concerns of your child. It will not be helpful to simply tell them not to use cannabis. The tips below will help you promote your child’s well-being and reduce any risks from their potential or current cannabis use:

  • Stay connected: Adolescence is a time when your child may want to pull away. Respect their independence, but stay connected at the same time. Build a strong relationship with your child by participating in activities with them and getting to know their interests and their friends. Having a healthy relationship will increase the likelihood that you can help them make informed and safer choices.
  • Talk about it: Have open, ongoing talks in which your child can express their ideas and hear yours. Being respectful and letting the discussion grow out of opportunities that present themselves, are important to having meaningful dialogue. Throughout the conversation, show real interest in what they think. You will have ample opportunity to share any concerns you have (e.g., about the legal and health risks of having, using, selling, or sharing cannabis) once you have demonstrated a willingness to listen.
  • Be curious: Seek to understand, and recognize that connection is more important than content. Build trust with active listening skills, asking open questions and seeking clarification. Avoid trying to scare, shame or lecture as these do not build trust or communicate caring.
  • Focus on well-being: Let your child know that you care about their well-being. This involves helping them develop the skills to make wise decisions: knowing when to take risks and when to play it safe. Helping them make decisions about cannabis that consider its broader impact on life and not just focusing on the moment is important. Encourage your child to think of the larger picture. Be there to help even when they make mistakes, for example, if they need a ride because they failed to plan a safe way home.
  • Be informed: You do not need to be an expert, but taking the time to get informed about things that are important to your child shows you care. It also allows you to have meaningful two-way conversations with your child in which you both contribute and learn. When there are opportunities to talk about cannabis, you have a foundation on which to build. Remember you don’t need all the answers. It can be fun to look things up together. Check out the cannabis section for information and tips on cannabis use for young people.
  • Be supportive: Youth use cannabis for many reasons: to feel good, to fit in, or to cope with stress. If your child is (or thinking about) experimenting with cannabis, be ready to help them reflect on their reasons, and processes for making decisions. Be sure they consider other ways to address their needs and can access the necessary supports.
  • Be an example: Reflect on your own ways of making decisions about how to have fun, socialize with friends, deal with stress, or keep going when it is tough. How does substance use fit in? Be honest about your own struggles and use the opportunity to discuss why people use substances, the potential benefits and harms of substance use, and how to respond to pressures in life.
  • Be ready: Pay attention to what is going on in your child’s life and take note of sudden changes in school performance, mood, or discontinuing activities they previously enjoyed. This could be a normal stage in the developmental process, but it could also be a sign of problematic cannabis use. Always be ready to listen. Respect their appropriate independence, but also be sure they know you are ready to help.

This section was informed by “Cannabis: What Parents/Guardians and Caregivers Need to Know” with permission from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and School Mental Health ASSIST for use in British Columbia.

How can I start a conversation about cannabis with my child?

Sometimes the hardest part of talking about a certain subject is taking the first step to tell someone you want to talk about it. This is often the case with cannabis – it can be awkward and seemingly hard to take the first step to talk with your child. Focusing on natural opportunities to bring up cannabis or using situational questions are helpful strategies.

Here are a few helpful tips to help start the conversation:

  • If you see cannabis mentioned somewhere (such as on TV) ask your child very casually what they know about cannabis
  • Ask your child if any of their friends smoke pot or have tried cannabis
  • Ask questions about their opinion on things related to cannabis. This can include what you see in the news. For example, you could ask what they think about cannabis legalization or testing drivers to see if they are high while driving
  • Use scenario questions to talk about cannabis. For example, you could ask your youth “what would your friends do if you someone offered them cannabis at a party”?

What Next?

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