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Parents should put themselves in their children's shoes, participants in cannabis education event told

Jeff Thoms (right, standing), a social worker at the IWK, was one of the presenters for the cannabis education event for stakeholders held Jan. 24 in Yarmouth.
Jeff Thoms (right, standing), a clinical social worker at the IWK, was one of the presenters for the cannabis education event for stakeholders held Jan. 24 in Yarmouth. - Eric Bourque

There has been no shortage of talk – in the media, among political and community leaders, health officials and others – about cannabis, but another place where it’s very important this topic be addressed is in the home, where parents can aim to talk about it with their children as early as possible, participants in a cannabis education event in Yarmouth were told.

Jeff Thoms, a clinical social worker with the IWK’s mental health program, encourages parents to keep a few things in mind when talking to their kids about cannabis.

Among other things, he says, parents should try to keep things positive, engage in a dialogue with their kids rather than lecture them and make an effort to see things from their son’s or daughter’s perspective.

“You really need to put yourself in your teen’s shoes,” Thoms said during a presentation that was part of Thursday’s cannabis event.

This involves trying to appreciate adolescent culture, the messages that are coming from the mass media and the like, he said.

The goal, ultimately, is to get kids to feel comfortable enough that they will open up, he said.

“Don’t lecture,” Thoms said. “What happens when you start lecturing a young person? Usually they shut down.”

Another suggestion, he said, is to frame questions in a way that will encourage kids to talk.

“Try asking open-ended questions,” he said. “You want to get into a dialogue.”

Parents should end by asking their kids if there’s anything else they would like to add, realizing it’s a topic they will discuss again, Thoms said.

“It’s not a one-off conversation,” he said.

While he said parents should appreciate their children’s honesty – he acknowledges cannabis can be an awkward, difficult subject – he said parents also should respect their children’s wishes if they say they aren’t ready to talk about it.

In an interview after his presentation, Thoms elaborated a bit on the point he most wanted to get across with regard to parents talking to their kids about drugs.

“We want to set the environment where the kid is going to be doing most of the talking, and really the focus should be on the relationship with the child,” he said. “That would be the (takeaway): How do you get your young person doing the talking and how to you work on/focus on the relationship, maintaining and supporting the relationship.”

He also reiterated his point that parents should talk to their children about drugs as soon as possible.

“If your kid’s in grade school, we should be at least starting to have those conversations,” he said.

Acknowledging that cannabis is a “complex, multifaceted” topic, Thoms said he is optimistic about how things will play out.

“I believe that we are doing a way better job on public education,” he said.  “We’re doing a way better job on creating services that are youth-friendly and meeting young people where they’re at.”

He said he agreed with something raised earlier by Heather Durdle, a psychologist from the IWK and another of the day’s presenters, about how the legalization of cannabis in Canada will help provide useful information for those studying the issue.

“We’re going to have new data that we’ll be able to (use to) do more research,” he said. “We’re going to have a different understanding and all of that is going to inform practice.”

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for organizers of the Yarmouth cannabis education event said she was very pleased with how things went, saying participants had many positive comments.

“We ended up with 98 (participants), I believe,” said Joan Donaldson. “Some cancelled because of concern over the weather but watched online instead.

Donaldson is program co-ordinator for the cannabis education and substance user support initiative at the Tri-County Women’s Centre.

While the Jan. 24 event was for stakeholders, she said they are working on some community forums for the general public.

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