Talking About Cannabis with Teens
Talking about cannabis with teenagers isn’t always easy, neither for you nor for them. Whether you’re a parent, a teacher or another adult role model, your opinion counts. Having a frank conversation about cannabis opens the door to dialogue and to sharing expectations. A conversation about legalization is a golden opportunity to talk about cannabis use in general.
Most don’t use it
Teens encounter cannabis very quickly, whether at school, in their neighbourhoods, on sports fields or at parties. Yet, most choose not to use it. Some teens are afraid of the dangers associated with using cannabis, or of being judged or rejected; others are simply not interested.
Why do teens use?
Identifying the reasons why an adolescent is using can help you provide guidance or offer help.
- Encourage them to discover other sources of pleasure (e.g. join a band or be on a sports team).
- Explain that he or she doesn’t always have to do what his or her friends do. Remind him or her that most young people that age don’t use.
- Help them find other ways to deal with stress or shyness.
- Suggest the help of a health professional if their use is linked to anxiety, insomnia, pain or concentration issues.
Keep in mind that there may be other reasons behind the teen’s use. For example, problems may be related to family (e.g. divorce, overwhelmed single parent), friends or school (e.g. bullying, gangs, violence, abuse).
Prepare the discussion
- Ask yourself questions. Taking time to think about cannabis before starting a conversation can help prevent you from reacting too strongly to what the teen has to say. What is your opinion about cannabis? Have you ever used it? What do you want to get out of this conversation with your adolescent?
- Get more information. You’ll be more confident if you have some knowledge about cannabis. You can also look for this information with the teen. Finding out about it together can help the conversation. What does the law say? What are the effects? What are the risks? What are the myths?
- Consider the teen’s experiences. If the adolescent already uses cannabis, don’t focus only on the negative aspects of drugs. Rather, give advice about responsible cannabis use (see Responsible use). Discourage driving under the influence of cannabis as well as mixing the drug with other substances such as alcohol.
Engage in a real conversation! Listen to your child and try to have a conversation where you give him or her time to express opinions, and respect these opinions. Your teen will be more likely to listen to you.
- Start talking about it! Situate cannabis in a broader context to encourage dialogue. Use something in the news, a film or TV series that deals with cannabis. Ask about school, discuss your child’s projects. If you find it hard to have a face-to-face conversation, talk about it in the car or when you’re doing something that you like doing together (e.g. cooking, sport)
- Be calm. Avoid getting angry, especially if you’ve asked your child to be honest. This can sometimes mean not expressing your opinions, fears or prejudices to avoid cutting off dialogue. Honesty is invaluable and must be respected.
- Ask open-ended questions. Ask questions that start with “Why” or “How” and require longer answers, instead of “yes or no” questions. Ask your adolescent to talk about concerns he or she may have, as well as the advantages and disadvantages of their choices.
Set clear limits. Your role as parent is to set clear rules and to go over the consequences if they are not followed. Consequences can include giving up privileges such as going out with friends. You can also congratulate your child when rules are respected. Explain that you only want what is best and to support him or her.
Show that there are other ways to “feel good”. Take an interest in your child’s dreams and goals. Encourage your teen to write them down on paper and to find solutions to make them happen. The conversation will be more pleasant if it isn’t completely focused on cannabis.
For teachers, coaches or other adult role models
Each conversation presents an opportunity to take an interest in teens, and not just with regard to cannabis. The quality of those contacts and the attention you pay to their aspirations can help them deal with this issue: they will listen to your opinions on cannabis.
- Tell teens that most of their peers don’t use it.
- Remind them that they are role models for young children and for their own friends.
- Explain that using cannabis can harm their performance. When young people play sports, for example, using cannabis can harm their performance or have them excluded from a team or program. At school, it can reduce their capacity to learn and retain information. It’s also your role to remind them of the consequences of not respecting the rules.
As a parent, do you use cannabis?
Cannabis legalization can result in more adults using the substance or talking more openly about their past use.
How can you deal with this when you have teens at home?
It depends on the relationship you have with them. If your adolescent feels confident and there’s an open dialogue, it’s a good time to explain that adolescents aren’t like adults. Frequent cannabis use can affect their brain development, ability to learn, and social and emotional development. By putting off first use, they’re taking no chances.
If your expectations and house rules are clear, your own use will be perceived as responsible and just a normal lifestyle habit. Giving cannabis too much attention isn’t useful.