What others say: Parents, talk to your kids about cannabis

It’s time to have the talk.

Not the talk about sex or alcohol, or even drugs in general. It’s time to talk marijuana.

With attitudes about cannabis changing, with the newly legalized recreational use of the drug in Alaska, it’s time for parents and guardians to have an honest discussion with their kids.

Because regardless of what changes in society, marijuana use by anyone under 21 is still quite illegal and the consequences are unpleasant and often irreversible.

But the talk must come from a parent. It can’t come from a counselor, from a coach or a “Big” or a police officer. It’s the parents that have the most influence and when it comes to big discussions, there is simply no substitute. It’s up to the family to cut through the sea of information — and misinformation — about the effects of marijuana on youth; it’s up to them to filter through the cacophony.

When it comes to the talk, parents should be prepared in order to be effective — be honest, do your homework, be calm and sincere, and be prepared to listen. If it’s going to work, the discussion needs to be open and thought out, and it absolutely needs to go deeper than, “As long as you’re under my roof …”

Before any discussion, parents need to consider how they want their child or teen to view cannabis. Think about what they should know. Then, think about what it was like to be their age — the freedom of getting to borrow the car, that blemish that felt as large as a volcano, or the feeling when that special someone took notice. The life of a teen is like having one foot in childhood and one in adulthood; it’s not necessarily an easy place to be.

We’ve offered up some suggestions on how to approach the topic — but these are just guidelines, a road map of sorts to help pilot adults through what is likely uncertain territory.

But first, we’d like to acknowledge one important fact: Every family is different, unique in the way they communicate and interact with one another. These guidelines might not fit exactly into one family, but perhaps a version of them will.

The publication “Marijuana and the Responsible Parent” shares facts and statistics about cannabis use and the drug’s effect on the body from “light” to “heavy” use. The publication was created by the Environmental Resource Council, a nonprofit that aims to provide information geared toward helping schools and families.

The publication is thorough. It’s not long or drawn out, it’s not marred by jargon or excessive statistics. It’s like the talk should be, we think — open, honest and real. Among other recommendations on how to talk to kids and teens about cannabis, here are some of the highlights:

— Avoid scare tactics: These might work well on younger children, but as soon as that teen realizes the whole truth, there goes a parent’s credibility.

— Listen: A good conversation goes both ways.

— Be cautious about confronting their use: Think hard about approaching a youth about use. How and if it happens will depend largely on the unique relationship between parent and child.

— Be sensitive if they have used: Trying cannabis, even once, is not unusual.

— Do not try to talk if they are high: Any kind of intoxication does not bode well for conversations of this nature. Be patient; after the high has worn off, then absolutely have a chat.

— Don’t argue: This makes listening hard for both parties and will put the youth on edge.

— Don’t take responsibility for the status quo: Parents are not responsible for drug laws or the way society deals with or thinks about cannabis.

— Don’t “rate” drugs: Don’t get bogged down discussing which drugs are worse or better than others. Stick to the facts: It’s illegal.

— Consider discussing your personal use: Of course, this is a very personal choice, but children and teens will love their parents no less if the answer is “yes.” Instead, it will likely up the level of respect.

For half a century, folks on both sides of the marijuana argument have thrown misinformation, exaggerations, stereotypes and social policy interpretations back and forth. Amid all the noise, it’s easy to feel like everyone is yelling and no one is listening.

But your kids will listen. And they want to hear from you.

The publication “Marijuana and the Responsible Parent” is available for free online. Download the PDF here: http://envrc.org/content/marijuana-booklet.pdf.

— Juneau Empire, May 10

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