Parents to get help having ‘the talk’ about pot

Youth drug prevention group offers parents a chance to test their communication skills on live teenagers


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For parents, discussing drug use with a teenager or adolescent could be almost as awkward and anxiety-provoking as the dreaded sex talk — but a non-profit group is betting that a practice run might help.

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This article was published 18/03/2019 (1360 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For parents, discussing drug use with a teenager or adolescent could be almost as awkward and anxiety-provoking as the dreaded sex talk — but a non-profit group is betting that a practice run might help.

Drug Free Kids Canada, a non-profit group that focuses on preventing youth drug use, is launching Facebook Live sessions where parents can use video chat to try their communication skills on a stand-in teenager before they broach the topic with their own child.

The teens are “there to kind of get in the skin of (the parent’s) child, and give them teen reaction,” said Marc Paris, executive director of Drug Free Kids Canada.

Marc Paris, executive director of Drug Free Kids Canada. (Supplied)

“So then the parent can see how his conversation is going, and if it’s going off the rails, then our subject matter expert will be there to give them some good pointers and advice as to how to better approach to the conversation.”

The bilingual Facebook Live events, which start Tuesday evening and will run monthly through July, are the latest phase of the Drug Free Kids Canada’s “Practice Kids” campaign, which includes a “Cannabis Talk Kit” handbook that Paris said has been distributed more than 500,000 times. The initiative is funded mostly by corporate donations, according to Paris.

The live chats are meant for “the younger segment of parents, who go to YouTube for everything,” said Paris.

“That generation of parents don’t typically want to read through a 23-page brochure.”

Youth drug education campaigns often leave parents out of the equation, said Jenna Valleriani, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia who studies how people use cannabis.

“In that regard I think it’s good, it’s engaging, which is really, really important,” said Valleriani.

“There are a lot of literary resources that parents may be able to go to, but there is something to be said for this more interactive session.”

Valleriani agrees with Drug Free Kids Canada’s position that cannabis use should ideally be postponed until later in life. But she said it’s important to recognize that most young people who use cannabis aren’t using it in ways that are especially risky, like daily or near-daily use.

UBC post-doctoral fellow Jenna Valleriani. (Supplied)

“It may be that 25 per cent of youth in the last year have tried cannabis, but that means they could have tried it once, or they could have tried it once a week or once a month or every single day,” she said.

“There’s a lot of variability in that… Predominantly young people are using cannabis occasionally, and (if) we start focusing exclusively on these really extensive health harms that only a very small portion of those youth who use daily or near-daily are likely to experience, then I just wonder how effective this kind of engagement is going to be.”

Valleriani previously served as strategic adviser for another youth drug education project, a toolkit by Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy that takes a non-judgmental, harm reduction approach to educating young people about cannabis. She hopes Drug Free Kids Canada’s upcoming Facebook chats make space not just for parents who want to prevent their kids from ever using cannabis, but also for parents whose children are already using the drug.

Marc Paris of Drug Free Kids Canada said such parents are welcome to take part.

“Prevention, delaying is definitely our first mission in this whole process… (but) we will not shy away from the conversations if the child is (using),” said Paris.

Paris said Drug Free Kids Canada’s own research has found that lots of Canadian parents do talk to kids about drug use, but those talks tend to be quite brief. Successful parent-child communication about drugs takes more than just a one-off chat, he said.

“It’s an ongoing conversation, there should be an open conversation that kids feel comfortable in talking to their parents about it, because we know that the parents still have a huge influence over kids,” he said.

An image from Drug Free Kids Canada's "Practice Kids" campaign. (Supplied)

Researcher Jenna Valleriani agrees, and says parents need to make it clear that they’re always open to talking to their kids about cannabis.

“Over time, once they know that they can be open and they’re not going to get in trouble, that’s how you can facilitate that dialogue.”   


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