Pubdate: Fri, 17 Dec 2004
Source: Toronto Star (CN ON)
Copyright: 2004 The Toronto Star
Author: Andrea Gordon, Family Issues Reporter
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal - Canada)
Bookmark: (Youth)
Bookmark: (Drug Education)


Marijuana: Fact Of Life For Teens Today

Parents Challenged By Propaganda

She sports a tiny T-shirt, silver hoop earrings and a puffy ski jacket, and 
she's hanging at the mall with friends. Those aren't her only trademarks of 
a modern teen. Like most of her peers, the 14-year-old is also familiar 
with the scent of marijuana. Most days, it wafts across the grounds of her 
Toronto high school.

The Grade 9 student cites conventional adolescent wisdom -- that lots of 
kids smoke dope and it's probably safer than cigarettes and alcohol. And 
she figures parents shouldn't get too worked up about prohibiting it, 
because kids, if they're curious enough, will try it anyway.

"They can't stop it. I think they should say 'you know the consequences, 
and make your own decisions.'"

Whether they use it or not, marijuana is a fact of life for today's 
teenagers. One so commonplace its mention hardly merits more than a knowing 
smirk or a casual shrug.

Marijuana is at school, it's at parties and it's on the street. It's cheap 
- -- as little as $5 for a joint -- and easy to get. It has surpassed tobacco 
as the No. 2 drug of choice among youth, next to alcohol.

But for anxious parents, marijuana can be a minefield. They may know they 
can't stop kids from smoking it, but how do they even navigate the 
conversation in a culture where use is rising and attitudes are relaxing -- 
a fact many teens are quick to point out.

After all, they've heard it's going to be legal soon -- isn't it? There's a 
Marijuana Party of Canada. Hemp shops are hip. Some people use dope for 
medical reasons. And didn't that famous writer Pierre Berton roll a joint 
on national television not that long ago?

Last month, headlines blared that pot use has doubled in the past decade 
following release of the Canadian Addiction Survey, which said 14 per cent 
of Canadians used it in the past year.

Diane Buhler, executive director of Toronto-based Parent Action on Drugs 
(PAD), says the current zeitgeist makes for a challenging parent-teen 
dialogue. How can you be certain teens know the consequences? Or that they 
are equipped to make wise decisions.

Most calls to PAD over the past few years have come from parents worried 
about marijuana use, particularly among kids 15 to 17, says Buhler. They 
want to know how to respond to the mixed messages out there and to their 
teens' misguided arguments: pot is harmless, it's about to become legal, 
it's not addictive, and it must be safe because people use it for medicinal 

That doesn't surprise Ron Clavier, a Toronto psychologist and consultant 
with the Council on Drug Abuse who has been educating kids in schools about 
drugs for 25 years.

"The kids think it's benign and safe," says Clavier. That's what they hear 
from their friends.

Both he and Buhler say, because of all the pro-marijuana propaganda , it's 
critical for parents to get informed, to be able to challenge adolescent 
assertions with accurate information. In fact, there are still many 
unknowns, such as the long-term impact of cannabis on the developing 
adolescent brain.

Experts agree that how parents talk about marijuana and other drugs depends 
on the age and stage of their kids. "You can say to an 11- or 12-year-old, 
'This may come along and I don't want you to do it and I'll find out if you 
do because I have eyes in the back of my head and bad things will 
happen,'says Buhler. "But that won't necessarily work for a 14- 

She recommends starting a dialogue as early as possible. Talk to kids about 
the fact they might be offered pot. Tell them how it could make them feel 
physically, and how it can affect behaviour and make their thoughts fuzzy.

Buhler says parents have to find their own comfort levels in delivering 
their messages. Some are more authoritarianand find open dialogue 
difficult. Others may lean to permissiveness.

The underlying message that straddles both camps could be, "I need you as 
an adolescent to pay attention in school, to make good decisions with your 
friends and to be yourself, as yourself not affected by a mind-altering 

But Clavier says discussions with teens should be honest. So before you 
outline the risks, talk about why they might be attracted to pot -- 
curiosity, it makes them feel good, they want to fit in with their friends.

"If we don't acknowledge the reasons to use drugs, we're not having an 
honest discussion," Clavier says. "Kids listen once they see you're not 
wasting their time."

David Wolfe, director of the CAMH Centre for Prevention Science in London, 
Ont., agrees that parents have to maintain their credibility if they want 
kids to listen.

"My view is you have to be straightforward with them ... You can't just say 

He says a more effective message to teens, who will ultimately make their 
own decisions, is "I want to keep you safe. I know you may try this and I 
want you to know the effects."

Be clear about your bottom line, for example, that they must not breach 
trust or the rules at school or in other people's homes.

Clavier challenges kids on the notion that it's no big deal to be in an 
altered state:

"We only take drugs in order to experience things different from reality. 
That's dangerous because we have to know what reality is. We need to sense 
danger when we approach something that's bad for us and when we're moving 
away from what's good for us."

Tom Walker, director of the YMCA of Greater Toronto youth substance abuse 
program, explains that using dope is "kind of like taking a holiday from 
your body. As a young person, your job is to learn how to live in your 
body." That includes dealing with emotions like stress, anger and conflict 
resolution. If you simply choose to numb those normal feelings of 
discomfort with dope, you'll never learn to deal with them.

For some parents, the good old days pose a bit of a stumbling block when it 
comes to figuring out what to say to their kids. They may figure it didn't 
do them any harm in their youth, or they may feel hypocritical telling them 
not to behave as they once did.

Clavier says there's nothing wrong with parents sharing experiences, 
explaining they didn't know how dangerous it was and that they've changed 
their beliefs on the basis of more evidence about marijuana.

Scientists note today's drugs are much more potent. Harold Kalant, 
professor emeritus of pharmacology at University of Toronto and renowned 
addictions expert, says the average marijuana cigarette kids smoke today 
has a 3- to 5-per-cent concentration of the psychoactive chemical THC 
versus the 1 per cent concentrations their parents smoked. There are also 
many more potent combinations around, exceeding 15 per cent as a result of 
cloning and hydroponics.

"You can't be sure what you're going to get from one batch to another," 
says Kalant.

Buhler adds that parents cannot predict how their child might react or 
integrate pot use.

And what about parents who occasionally use it themselves?

Stick to the same philosophy adopted for other categories, such as alcohol, 
where there is a distinction between what adults and adolescents are 
allowed to do, she says.

"The message should and can be to the child: 'I don't want you to be using 
at this stage,'" Buhler says. "I think we have to be very practical about 
recommending that message to parents."

Clavier notes that parents need to "walk the walk" too. "Parents will say, 
'Do you have to use drugs to have a good time?' and they (kids) will say, 
'Do you?'"

He says adults should challenge themselves once in awhile. Before trying to 
convince an adolescent not to use pot, see how hard it is not to use 
alcohol at a gathering, even with an adult's experience and a sense of self.

With today's mixed messages, it's important that parents help kids sort 
through what's true and false as different pieces of news emerge.

"We know the messages we give them are the armour kids wear when they go 
forward to make their own decisions," says Buhler. But in the end it's up 
to them whether they choose to keep it on.
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