How to talk to your kids about cannabis

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“Parents are really scared,” says Danielle Sutherland, curriculum-development manager at Skylark Children, Youth and Families. “Cannabis today is different than it was when they were growing up. They don’t quite have the language to communicate their concerns.” 

Sutherland works at the Toronto-based charity helping provide a new approach to cannabis harm reduction. She says Sessions, the drug education program that incentivizes teens with volunteer hours, is centered on creative projects, youth leadership, and neutrality. She also hosts several parent workshops to teach adults how to build trust and foster healthy in-home dialogue.

Having worked with over 300 children and teens, Sutherland says she has parents come to her all the time with concerns about their own child’s cannabis experimentation and use.

“Taking the course helps parents normalize, give them tools, and really focus on why their young person is acting a certain way,” says Sutherland on the phone to the Straight.

Sutherland has a few go-to tips to help parents talk to their children about cannabis, but says the first step is to try understand your child’s experiences rather than preparing to dictate the rules.

Do your research: “This will help you figure out the right words to use and topics to touch on. A good website is It’ll show you how different prescription drugs interact with street drugs. It also shows some of the slang words being used for certain drugs.”

Think calm, not concerned: “Young people are not necessarily able to discern nuances in facial expressions. Something that an adult might read as concern, a young person might read as anger. If you bring the conversation up from a place of fear they sometimes don’t read it as concern, they read it as dramatic.”

Look at the whole picture: “Generally, parents are concerned because their kid is, for example, defiant or sleeping a lot, and those could just be normal teenage behaviours. First, figure out what’s different in their behaviour and if it's actually associated to drug use. Then you can address those real impacts, not the assumed ones.” 

When to have the talk: “Don’t do it when you’ve found the drugs in the backpack or when you’re angry. Have the talk when you’re doing something like driving in the car. Bring it up casually. Talk to them in a way where it’s a light conversation, because if it’s a serious drug talk they’re going to either out-loud or internally roll their eyes. Car conversations are so beneficial because it automatically defuses the tension. If you bring it up while driving to hockey practice or school, it allows you interact without getting heated. You can’t get heated because you have to drive. They can’t get heated because they’re in the car with you and can’t leave.” 

Use the right words: “If you use words like “cannabis”, you eliminate that element of trying to look cool. Using slang may feel like the right thing to do, but they could stop taking you seriously.”

If they shut down: “Don’t push it. Just move on for now, then keep trying. If it comes up on the radio or on T.V. you can use that as an opportunity to bring it up again.”

If you don’t have the answer: “Look it up together. It’s a way for you both to learn the information and it creates a safe space to ask further questions. Google it together or separately then compare answers. You can compare biases from different websites and it will open up the conversation right away.”