Advice for Parents of Teenagers and Young Adults
As the parent of a teen or a young adult, you may be concerned about the federal government’s decision to legalize cannabis by July 1.
Just because cannabis will be legal does not mean the drug is harmless. There are a number of risks for youth who consume cannabis. Legalization can be an opportunity for you to talk to your child about drugs and alcohol.
Your Teen and Cannabis
Adolescence is a time of many changes that can include an increased interest in new experiences such experimenting with alcohol or other drugs such as cannabis. For most young people, this period of experimentation is brief and it is not a major focus in their lives.
The main reasons teens try cannabis are:
- Out of curiosity
- To fit in with their friends
- During social events
- For fun and the effects it causes (the buzz)
- To deal with stress or problems
For most young people, trying alcohol or drugs is a temporary phase and does not disrupt their life. Often, the cost and effects of the drugs—as well as concerns about the potential consequences and health effects—are enough to keep young people’s consumption in check.
Contrary to what some teens believe, most adolescents do not use cannabis. The 2014–2015 Québec Population Health Survey shows that about 30% of youth age 15–17 use cannabis at least once per year. In most cases, they just experiment with it or use it occasionally. Discussing this information with your teen can help them realize that using cannabis is not the norm and help them resist peer pressure.
Talking to your Teen or Young Adult about Cannabis
No matter what your child’s age, talking to them about cannabis can be difficult. But it is the best way to help them make informed decisions. Here are some tips for getting the discussion started.
Be prepared for the discussion
- Get the facts about cannabis (its composition, effects, and possible health impacts) and, if you like, the reasons for its legalization. Stick to objective information from reliable sources.
- Take time to think about the issues that concern you and that might influence your child:
- Your opinion about cannabis consumption
- Your own consumption habits
- The messages your child has received in the past and those you want to pass onto them in the future
- Take time to think about your child’s situation:
- The reasons why they may or may not use cannabis
- The situation(s) in which they might use it
- Their interests and hobbies
- Healthy activities that interest them or could interest them
- Try not to have any preconceived ideas about their perceptions and experiences with regard to cannabis.
Find the right time
- Find an occasion when the atmosphere is relaxed and you and your child have time and are open to discussion
- Tell your child you want to talk about cannabis legalization or the consumption of alcohol or other drugs. There are many ways you can approach the issues. For instance:
- “People are talking a lot about the legalization of cannabis,” or, “I’ve heard that some young people smoke cannabis.”
- “I’d like to talk about it with you because I think it’s important.”
- “Do you want to talk about it? When would you like us to talk about it?”
Listen to your child and keep an open mind
- Once your child has agreed to talk about the subject, you can keep the discussion going with open-ended questions. For example: “What do you know about the legalization of cannabis,” or, “What do your friends and classmates think about cannabis consumption?”
- Ask your child’s opinion and acknowledge their point of view. That doesn’t mean you have to agree with everything they say, but try to avoid making judgements. If opening up means a lecture from you, your child will be less likely to talk to you another time.
- Keep an open mind and listen. Make sure they see that you are truly listening. Keep a positive attitude. Young people are more inclined to have a discussion when they feel like they are being listened to.
- Give your child the opportunity to talk about their situation and express their feelings. Ask questions that encourage them to think and express their feelings and point of view. For instance:
- “How do you feel when that happens?”
- “Why do you think that?”
- “What are you worried about?”
Addressing the subject of alcohol and other drugs
- Talk to your child about ways of dealing with peer pressure. That can include teaching them how to say no. Many youths don’t realize that simply saying “no thanks” or “I’m just not into it” are great and effective ways of saying no.
- Help your child learn about the effects of cannabis, alcohol, and other drugs.
- Tell them that you are open to talking about it again.
- Stay present in your child’s development. Your relationship with your child is different than their relationship with their friends. Your attitudes can help them make informed choices. For more advice, visit the Alcohol Consumption, Drug Use and Gambling: Helping Teenagers page of the Portail santé mieux-être.
If your Child Uses Cannabis
- Don’t be afraid to take the lead when you have something to say to your child. Bring up the subject with them when you are both calm and not under the influence of alcohol or other drugs.
- Tell your child that you are worried about their well-being and that you want to make sure they have accurate and up-to-date information about the health and safety risks of using cannabis.
- Find out what or who prompted your child to use cannabis. For instance:
- The fact that their friends use it and they want to fit in
- The feeling that cannabis causes
- The fact that it was available at a social event (e.g., a party or an evening with friends)
- The fact that they use it to deal with stress or problems
- It may also be useful to know how often your child uses cannabis. It is important to understand the difference between a youth who uses cannabis from time to time and one who has a substance abuse problem. To find out more about the types of consumption, visit the Alcohol Consumption, Drug Use and Gambling: Helping Teenagers page of the Portail santé mieux-être.
- If your child uses cannabis on a regular or occasional basis it is useful to talk to them about lower risk consumption to themselves and others.
Lower Risk Consumption
Whether your child is a teen or a young adult, talk to them about how to reduce the potentially negative consequences of using cannabis and discuss the recommendations for reducing the risks of cannabis consumption.
Keep in mind that if there is a history of mental health issues in your family and your child has a history of mental health issues they should not consume cannabis.
Your Influence as a Parent
Some parents think their child barely listens to or completely disregards what they say. In the 2010–2011 Québec Health Survey of High School Students young people said that their parents have the biggest influence on their lives and their decisions, even more so than their friends. If you don’t approve of your child’s cannabis use and you tell them so, you will probably have an impact on them. If you do approve, and you say so, you will also have an impact. Even if your child doesn’t say it, your opinion is important to them. You will influence their future choices and attitudes. Don’t forget that your child is looking for reference points. Your attitude as a parent is crucial.
You will find more advice for helping your teen make informed choices on the Portail santé mieux-être.
Why Legalize and Regulate Cannabis
Cannabis is currently an illegal drug. The purpose of prohibition, or a ban on producing, selling, and consuming a substance, is to reduce the supply and the demand. In the case of cannabis, prohibition has not had the desired effect. Despite prohibition, cannabis is still being consumed. As a result, it is preferable to regulate every step of the process, from the production to the sale of cannabis, to better protect the public.
Cannabis is not being legalized because it is harmless or good for your health. Quite the opposite—because cannabis poses health and safety risks, the government wants to regulate its composition, its quality, and other aspects in order to minimize the risks.
The legalization of cannabis is not an incentive for consumption. It must not send a message trivializing or normalizing the substance. Instead, it aims to direct consumers to a safer, legal market without stimulating demand. The legalization of cannabis establishes conditions for providing accurate information about its composition and effects, the risks associated with it, and ways of reducing those risks.
For years, the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux of Québec has produced an information and awareness campaign (in French) aimed at warning youth about the risks and consequences of consuming alcohol and other drugs and gambling.
If you want help or more information on the consumption of cannabis, alcohol, or other drugs, responders are available to help, listen, and offer solutions without any judgement, no matter what type of consumption your child is engaging in. Visit the Portail santé mieux-être to find a resource.