Psychology and addictions specialists say parents should open up conversation instead of shaming their kids.
With the promise of marijuana legalization just around the corner, experts say the scare tactics of yesteryear won’t work on modern kids.
‘Shift the conversation’
University of Victoria psychology professor Bonnie Leadbeater, who studies marijuana use in teens, said often young people simply aren’t aware of the risks surrounding the substance.
The way to teach them, she said, is to talk with them, not at them and to ask questions — what do they think about legalization, for instance? Do they think anything will change?
“This is the perfect time to bring up conversations about marijuana and to really find out what your kids think,” she said.
It can be uncomfortable at first, but Cindy Andrew, a consultant for the Centre for Addictions Research of B.C., said parents might just have to suck it up.
“Lots of parents have the same struggles when it comes to talking about sexuality with our kids,” she said. “Like sexuality, the time to start that conversation isn’t when they’re teenagers in high school.”
Andrew said parents can capitalize on “teachable moments” — like news reports or real-life events involving weed — to start a conversation.
“We need to start to shift the conversation not just about the risks but about the more nuanced, complex perspective and behaviour and help each other figure it out,” she said.
Myths persist, but education is key
Leadbeater noted that young people are often given conflicting information about marijuana, which can lead them to believe that the drug is risk-free.
“Young people need to know about [the risks]. There’s a lot of myths out there,” she said.
Andrew points to the idea that weed is a totally safe alternative to alcohol — “that it really doesn’t have any harm, it’s way better to smoke pot than it is to drink” — as a pervasive one.
“Pot is not a benign substance,” she said.
Leadbeater said that much of the reason myths about pot persist is because of a lack of funding into studies.
“There’s a lot of mystery and part of the mystery has been because it’s illegal and the research has not been done,” she said.
In order to better inform adults and kids alike, she said, that research is an important first step.