What would be the right age and the right approach to teach Canadian children about cannabis?

Published Aug 5, 2019 09:23 a.m. ET
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Now that marijuana legalization has been in effect for almost a year in Canada. It is time to start the critical conversations with the most easily influenced portion of the population, our kids. One of the greatest fears that many Canadians had prior to the legislation being introduced was, allowing cannabis-infused products onto the market that might make it easier to make its way into the hands of youths. Now that enough time has passed to calm some of those concerns, we are left with a small number of weed-related incidents that could and should have been avoided, but how?

Every Canadian citizen has access to a wide variety of substances and toxins that can cause harm to both people and animals. There are products at the local grocer like drain cleaner, bleach, dish pods, laundry pods, cold medicines and many other toxic elements. These items are not banned for our safety, nor are their sales restricted, but Instead, we use the most powerful tool in our arsenal to equip our children to navigate this world as safely as possible. Incidents do still happen, but the majority are entirely avoided with the right education at an appropriate age.

What is the best age to introduce this topic to our children?

So, what is an appropriate age to teach our children about cannabis? Is there an appropriate time to begin talking about marijuana use, and its effects? If there is a supposed ideal age, then who should be responsible for teaching it? These are all valid questions that need answering, and the time has come to approach the subject with tact, real information and the very best intentions in mind. Though most would agree that sitting your four-year-old down to have a talk about cannabis might not be beneficial. Just as many also want their kids to know about this newly legal element as soon as possible.

There is no longer any reason to hide marijuana use from youth as a parent. In fact, doing so could be detrimental to their long-term perspective on the elements that are provided by cannabis plants. Instead, the focus should be on age-appropriate explanations supplied by the adults that our children trust most. These conversations should occur across all aspects of our kid’s lives, and they should include all involved respected individuals such as teachers, guidance counselors, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and anyone else who fits that description. There is no right or wrong way to approach this topic, but there are a few guidelines that you should keep in mind throughout as you navigate the subject in a manner that is most suitable for your family.

Guidelines for talking about marijuana with your children

There is no perfect script or one right way to talk about cannabis with kids, there are only general recommendations based on their age, understanding and how comfortable you are as a parent. Here are a few tips for handling talks throughout the years surrounding marijuana products, use, effects, and more.

1. Don’t hide your own marijuana use

Not long ago, cannabis was illegal, and if a parent chose to consume infused products, it would be kept from youth for fear of reprisal if the topic came up at school. Now that marijuana legalization is in full effect, it is vital to establish a comfortable level of exposure to this topic throughout the years. Imagine suddenly learning that your parents were daily coffee drinkers or alcohol consumers. You would feel deceived if this was always kept from you, and it would be natural to be untrusting and hold a negative association with the elements as you come across them later in life. Marijuana use is no longer taboo or illegal. If you would typically feel comfortable with a glass of wine in your hands at a backyard barbecue, then cannabis should be treated in the same way. This will help to normalize and destigmatize the consumption of cannabinoids. Long before they even learn anything about the plant through everyday life.

2. Be honest and factual

The most important thing to remember when talking with your children about cannabis is to always be truthful. As soon as the subject is broached, you are building the primary blocks of what will be their entire understanding and perception of marijuana use. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t offer a combination of your opinion as well, but if you do, then you should be wary to avoid fear-driven biased statements. It can be difficult for some people who grew up with decades of propaganda to not instinctually move towards fear-based learning about mind-altering elements. As that is all, they know through experience. However, those ‘no to drugs’ programs that many of us went through in the 80's and 90’s actually led to an increase in marijuana use among youth.

Examples of biased opinions

·         “Do not ever touch cannabis products, as they are toxic and could kill you.”

·         “People who smoke marijuana are lazy and unproductive.”

Examples of factual opinions

·         “The legal age for marijuana uses in Canada is 19 years old, and you should not partake before then, as it can hinder the growth of a developing brain.”

·         “Too much cannabis can make you sick, so if you accidentally touch or ingest these items, then you should tell me right away.”

3. Start young

Education on cannabis can begin as early as a child can talk. That isn’t to say you should explain the effects of marijuana to a toddler, but simple exposure by naming the beautiful plant that’s in a garden is an excellent starting point. Since pot plants aren’t toxic, there is no reason to fear learning through sight and touch under adequate supervision. It’s an excellent idea to teach kids how to spot these kinds of plants for various reasons. This type of lesson is perfect for youths as young as 4-6 years, who might come across them in their travels. The conversation doesn’t have to go any further than it would with any other plant. Like nettles, poison ivy or marigolds that we already teach them to admire with precautions in mind.

4. Use age-appropriate terms, topics and learning aids

One of the first attributes that most children should start in learning about cannabis is the basics of identification. Now that products like edibles, concentrates and other ingestible are so widely available, it is important that kids can recognize safety symbols which may be present on regulated products to prevent accidental consumption. Some parents might also feel comfortable with certain visual aids at this point, as well. Marijuana legalization now allows anyone of age to produce and create their own marijuana-infused goods, so, to avoid any possible accidents, it’s a good idea to cover any products that they might come into contact with, but the extent of this explanation is entirely personalized. The important thing is, they walk away with a better awareness of incidents that might arise so that they will know how to handle them. This lesson is ideal for the youth of any age but can begin as young as 4-6 years old.

Provide more information as they grow

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As your child gets older, there are more advanced topics that should be touched on. By the time a youth reaches the age of 13, their chances of them already being offered marijuana products are as high as 1 in This is the time it becomes critical to discuss the effects of marijuana use on the developing brain, along with tips for dealing with uncomfortable situations. Situations like peer pressure, what to do in a case where you believe someone has consumed cannabis-infused products and might be having a reaction, as well as ensuring they know how to identify marijuana products and their labels. Most of the time, when a child accidentally ingests goods like marijuana edibles, oils or tinctures, it is because they do not know what they are, or how to avoid them. These lessons can begin between the ages of 6-13, but the sooner they are aware and provided with the tools to do so, they will be able to handle possible situations that might arise in the life of a preteen.

Once your child reaches the age of 13, they have probably already been exposed to marijuana use on some level or another. This exposure often occurs at school, at a friend’s house or anywhere else where underage youth may gather unsupervised. By this point, they should have a basic understanding of cannabis products, safety labels, social situations and emergency steps to take in cases that might involve marijuana use. However, that library of information can now evolve to a more mature explanation. If you haven’t already, this is an excellent time to sit down with your child and offer to ask any questions they might have. Don’t be afraid to throw in a few of your own either, as it can help to gauge any areas that may have been missed in prior years. Now is the ideal time to teach your teenager about more in-depth specifics. Which might include the effects of marijuana use, medical vs recreational consumption, updating on safety labeling education, and diving into the anatomy of the plant and its many applications. This is excellent to begin between the ages of 13-14, or just before attending high school, where their chances of exposure are likely to rise substantially.

As you can see, there are many different ideas listed here, that most of our parents never taught us about marijuana use. However, better education on the matter can help to avoid some of the most probable negative situations that your child might come across in day to day life. If you need to, start out slow and gently expand as you become more comfortable with what you want to say, and your own personal boundaries with marijuana use.

Always be prepared for further and sometimes uncomfortable questions

For many of us, talking about marijuana use with kids can be shockingly painful. The primary reason for this is the new legal status of the substance after decades of being told that no one should be consuming this plant. So, it can help to remember that we now know better, and so we will do better and that the process will only get more comfortable with time. You should never avoid questions about marijuana use, and instead, use it as a base for what will be a lifetime of education moving forward.

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