Now that cannabis is legal, I’m not too worried about my kids experimenting with the drug when they’re of age. I hope that by the time they are mature adults, conversations about cannabis will have become normalized.
We need to normalize conversations, not consumption. This means making it clear to our children they can come to us with questions, but not necessarily to light up together! They might want to know what it feels like to be high or question why people use drugs in the first place. Honest answers will help gain the trust of our children, but it’s OK to maintain some boundaries.
According to the 2015 Canadian Tobacco Alcohol and Drugs Survey by Statistics Canada, cannabis use is widespread among Canadian youth and young adults. Over one-fifth (21 per cent or 426,000) of youth 15-19 years and 30 per cent (715,000) of young adults 20-24 years reported using cannabis in the past year. Comparatively, only 10 percent (2.5 million) of adults aged 25 and up reported using cannabis in the past year. Half of kids were initiated to cannabis by age 17. Clearly, we need to start talking to our children about cannabis in their early teens if we want to help them make safe and healthy choices.
How do we start these conversations and what messages should we impart on kids about drug use? Even though you might be scared on their behalf, and want to instil fear in your own kids, we know very well that fear tactics don’t work. It’s advised to use simple, general language. Broad language (e.g., substance use, substance-related harm) avoids labelling people and does not introduce emotionally-loaded judgments. It’s also advised to limit the use of negative language and terms, such as “substance abuse,” that have moral overtones.
Michael and Diane Parkin were the youth advisers of Temple Israel’s youth group, FROSTY, for several years between 1989 and 2003. They recalled at least one occasion when they could smell cannabis on teens. They took this opportunity to facilitate a group discussion about drug use.
“This helped us to gain their respect,” said Diane. “It opened the lines of communication between the generations.”
They also held a meeting with the teens and their parents to discuss concerns.
“It’s not that we are explicitly against using mind-altering substances, however, when you’re part of FROSTY and going to an event, you sign a contract that you agree not to use these substances. Therefore the problem was the violation of the agreement,” said Michael.
If you’re unable to abstain for the duration of the trip, this could be a sign that you might need to seek help for your substance use.
Parents worry their child’s drug use will be problematic, that they will become addicted. This begs a discussion around how we perceive addiction in the first place. Many people in society believe that drugs are intrinsically dangerous with the power to control human behaviour. According to this belief, a person takes a drug until, one day, the drug takes the person. The person is now considered “addicted,” is dependent on the substance, and powerless to control their substance use. A more compassionate and logical perspective on substance use places the focus on the person rather than the drug. It considers the context and reasons why we start and continue to use drugs in the first place.
There is a debate in Judaism as to whether cannabis was used historically in various rituals. Now that it’s legal, it might be worthwhile re-igniting these discussions. Alcohol use is not only normalized but considered central to the weekly practice of Shabbat and the observance of various holidays like Purim and Pesach, to name a few. Perhaps there is a role for cannabis to play in modern Judaism. No doubt our kids will be calling us out on this potential double standard.
Adolescence is a time of major physical and psychological changes. These years can be confusing, challenging and frustrating. Experimenting with mind-altering substances can be appealing during this time of self-transformation. Let’s start by talking so we can make this as positive as possible.
Editor’s note: For a different perspective on this issue. see Gloria Schwartz’s Focus on Fitness column.