With marijuana on the cusp of being legal in Canada, and with more teens using it more than ever, it’s important to have a real conversation with your teen about smoking pot. Here’s how.

By Linda Millar

THESE DAYS, MARIJUANA IS SPREADING LIKE, WELL, WEEDS, IN THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA. With Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowing to make it legal, pot shops growing on every corner, and new cannabis products hitting the market, teens are being exposed to the drug now more than ever. And, as with most things in life, the marijuana landscape is changing. Over the years, not only has the active ingredient (THC) increased, but the number of individuals using the drug and the circumstances surrounding their use have also changed (for example, medicinal marijuana is now used by many adults who are not using it as a recreational drug). This is why it’s more important than ever to have open and frank conversations with your teens about marijuana.

LET’S EXPLORE SOME FACTS
❑ Marijuana (cannabis) is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in Canada.
❑ One in five teens aged between 15 and 19 have used marijuana in the past year in Canada.
❑ The rate of marijuana use in Canada is three times higher among Canadian youth than adults.
❑ In Ontario, marijuana use increases with grade level, with 37.2 per cent of Grade 12 students reporting use.
❑ At present, cannabis use is higher among males than females.
❑ Canadian youth have the second highest rates of cannabis use worldwide.

THEIR BRAINS ON DRUGS
Current research indicates that the parts of the adolescent brain that develop first are those that control physical coordination, emotion and motivation. The pre-frontal cortex is the part of the brain that controls reasoning and impulses and this part of the brain does not fully develop until about age 25. Scientific evidence confirms that during adolescent years, teens are particularly susceptible to the negative effects of all drug use, including marijuana. In addition to interfering with school performance, teens who choose to use drugs may exhibit negative behaviour, including:

❑ Difficulty holding back or controlling emotions
❑ A preference for high-excitement and low-effort activities
❑ Poor planning and judgment (rarely thinking of negative consequences)
❑ More risky, impulsive behaviours

It is important to understand that some young people take drugs such as marijuana to ‘reduce stress, eliminate anxiety and help them cope.’ These are really important aspects to consider when promoting positive mental health. The reality is that life is not perfect. Stress and anxiety is a fact of life, and if teens are looking to drugs to ease their tension, they are not learning how to develop the life-long strategies they will need to cope and manage stress as adults.

Developing stress management skills early in life and learning how to use tools to relax and control emotions is critical for everyone—particularly our young people who are navigating a new and exciting world approaching adulthood—and, as a parent, you can help.

TALKING ABOUT MARIJUANA
Ask your teen how they feel about marijuana use. Discuss why they feel that way. Share your honest feelings about why you are having this discussion.

1. KEEP AN OPEN MIND. Try to be objective, open and non-judgmental.
2. AVOID ‘THE LECTURE’ and the ‘because I said so…’ tactic. It is ineffective.
3. FIND A COMFORTABLE SETTING. Think about where you and your child like to relax. Avoid anxiety-evoking words such as ‘We need to talk after dinner.’
4. BE AWARE OF BODY LANGUAGE. You know the drill: avoid crossed arms, finger-pointing, standing over your child etc.
5. BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR GOALS. Once you have identified what you want and need to say, try to stick to your plan. Too much at one time may be overwhelming and self-defeating.
6. BE CALM AND RELAXED. Maybe take a walk, a drive or do something that helps you relax before having that important discussion.
7. STAY POSITIVE. As difficult as it may be, try to be attentive, curious, respectful and understanding. If you ‘lose it’ chances are your teen will too!

ABOVE ALL, let your child know that you care about them and about this topic. If the conversation doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, or your child is getting defensive and ‘shutting off’, accept that it may take more than once to get through to them. Just don’t give up.

WHAT DO I DO IF MY TEEN ASKS ME IF I HAVE USED MARIJUANA?

THAT’S A QUESTION SOME OF US HAVE WRESTLED WITH. First of all, you know your child best, so if you used marijuana in the past, you have probably already prepared your answer. If not, experts suggest that you be honest, but that you also express that your experience with the drug is one of the reasons you want to have the conversation. If you felt it compromised your judgment, short-term memory or had any other negative impact on your life, share what happened if you feel comfortable doing so. Explain that you know now that marijuana, like alcohol, seriously impacts the ability to make clear decisions, and that really concerns you.

Alternatively, if you chose not to use marijuana or other drugs growing up, tell your child why you made that decision. At some point, it may be helpful to discuss what goals and plans your teen has now and for their lives as adults and share the important fact that developing brains can be seriously impacted by drug use, compromising those dreams and aspirations. ■

Linda Millar is a contributor to Drug Free Kids Canada, and an education consultant with over 40 years of experience. She has authored several teacher resources in the fields of substance use prevention, media literacy, childhood obesity, and mental health.

*For more tips related to talking to your children about drugs, see the Drug Free Canada website at: drugfreekidscanada.org