Connecting Through Conversation



Talking With Youth

Research suggests that one of the most important factors in healthy child development is a strong, open relationship with a parent, Elder, auntie, uncle or other adult who cares about them and is invested in their lives. Intuitively, most of us already know this but it's a good reminder. Our attention, love and patience are what really count. Remember that the main goal is to find ways to inspire the youth in our lives to want to communicate with us—about cannabis or anything else.


Starting a discussion about cannabis is one way to grow the relationships with the youth in our lives. It can open up the lines of communication and build trust about other topics too. By inviting open and honest conversation about cannabis (or any other subject) we let youth know that their thoughts, feelings and experiences matter to us.


The exact words we use are less important than the underlying message we're sending – that we want to engage in conversation with them and establish a long-lasting connection.


Starting the Conversation

Cannabis use can be a difficult topic to discuss with youth, family, friends, and often those closest to us. Talking about drug use brings up many thoughts, feelings, opinions and memories – good and bad. You are not alone – most people struggle with providing this type of guidance. To become a safe person to talk with, use extra care and respect, come from a place of empathy, and let them know that you care about them.


Some people wonder when, where and how to start a conversation about cannabis. You might be asking yourself, "What age is the right age to start talking about drugs?" or "Should I ask the questions or should I wait until I am asked?" Every young person is different so there is no "right age" to start talking about cannabis. But it makes sense to have your first conversation before they are likely to try cannabis. Some kids experiment with cannabis as young as 10 to 12 years of age. That way, you can establish a connection and share your expectations before they are exposed to any risks associated with cannabis.


There are no rules about how or where a conversation about cannabis should start. Drugs are often talked about on TV, in the newspaper, on social media, and at school. The topic of cannabis could be brought up naturally while watching a movie together, swapping stories about what happened at work and school that day, or when we come across cannabis use in daily life.


Another "natural" way to start a conversation about cannabis is to bring it up in the context of other drug use. For example, if you are visiting a relative who uses tobacco, ask the youth what they know about smoking or how they feel about it. Or if you are having a beer or taking medication, you could ask "Why do you think some people accept the use of alcohol and prescription medication but not cannabis?"


It may be more comfortable to talk when you are not sitting across the table looking directly at each other. Try starting a conversation in the car or while doing a physical activity. You could say, "I heard on the news about kids smoking pot at school. Is this happening at your school? How do you feel about this?"


Monitor Your Motives

The goal of open communication is to get your child talking and sharing their thoughts and feelings with you. Ideally, they will one day ask you what you think and feel about things too. Establishing a connection through conversation is more important than assessing the details of what they tell you. After all, it is not really an open conversation if you are only inviting your child to talk so you can jump on them for ideas you do not like.


Practice Good Conversation Skills

Here are some helpful tips about communicating with youth:


  • Be a good listener. Avoid the temptation to shower them with wisdom and let them do at least half of the talking.
  • Acknowledge their point of view. This does not mean you have to agree with what they say but avoid reacting in a way that will shut down their desire to tell you how they think and feel about things.
  • Use open-ended questions that encourage reflection and the expression of feelings and views – instead of simple yes/no answers.


Open-ended vs. Closed Questions

"How do you feel about_______________ ?"

Not "Doesn't that make you feel ____________ ?"


"Why do you think_____________ ?"

Not "Don't you realize that _____________ ?"


"What worries you about _______________?"

Not "Don't you think ___________is a problem?" 

  • Keep them from tuning out. Avoid "lecture mode" and judgmental comments. Keep in mind that exaggerating the negative aspects of cannabis or any drug will not work for someone who has witnessed or experienced its positive effects.


What to Share (and Not) About Your Own Past

Is it helpful to tell youth about your own experiences with cannabis or other drugs? The answer is "it depends on the youth and the situation."


What is your motive for talking about your past? Are you telling them because you want to warn or frighten them in some way? Is it because they asked and you did not want to lie to them? Or do you feel it might enhance your relationship in some way?


Some young people have a hard time seeing how an "old" person's experiences are relevant to them.  But youth can relate to the feelings you experienced "back then" so be sure to talk about that. For example, "I felt pressured by my friends to use cannabis. Do you?"