Parenting teenagers: what do our kids need to know about cannabis?

Before you try talking to your kids about drugs, it’s a good idea to brush up on the facts.

If you look at the recently released sneak peak results from the 2013 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, you ll see that we ve been successful in stemming an increase in cannabis use since 2010. Still the most commonly used illegal drug in Australia, the survey says that 35% of Aussies over 14 have tried it and more than 10% (around 2,000,000) have used it recently. On a positive note relating to teens and drugs, the age of first trying cannabis has risen slightly, but at an average of 16.3 years of age, it still means too many teenagers are exposed to cannabis and giving it a go. If you re parenting teenagers, depending on where you stand and what you know about the drug, teenage issues like this one can be a bit of a concern.

In June, NCPIC undertook a survey of more than 1000 Aussie parents to find out what they know about cannabis, what they don t, and what they only think they know. We aimed to assess whether parents still feel education about the drug is important, and if so, who they feel should be responsible for delivering that education. We also wanted to identify the gaps in knowledge so we can make sure we have some great parenting advice resources and parenting blogs on the way that tackle the topics of greatest concern. Though it is the most commonly used drug, we were a bit surprised to find out what facts about drugs parents didn t know, despite 90% of them believing they are the ones who should lead the charge on drug education for their kids.

When it comes to the facts about drugs, who s doing the talking?

While they may not have all the knowledge they need, parents are really taking their drug education responsibilities seriously, especially where teens and drugs are concerned, with 89% of them saying they ve already had conversations with their kids about cannabis. Most of them classed it as one of the many teenage issues they would face, and thought it ideal to wait until their kids were 10-to-15 years old before kicking off these sorts of talks. They did also note that in a quarter of cases, their kids were actually the ones who initiated the chat.

One area that could do with some improvement, is that almost half of parents were leaving it at one conversation, as opposed to making drug education a regular and ongoing discussion in their home. This ongoing chatter encourages kids to feel more comfortable broaching the subject when they have a specific question and this ensures the topic doesn t become perceived as taboo.

On the plus side, most responding parents seemed well-versed when it came to the health-related side effects of cannabis. While they might not have been able to recite the side-effects like their times tables, they had a good grasp on the fact that use of the drug has been linked to increased risks of mental illness and that the side effects were serious enough that someone who is stoned shouldn’t get behind the wheel of a car.

Parents were also spot on in identifying that cannabis, like other drugs, can be addictive and the vast majority were aware the drug is illegal in Australia.

Parenting teenagers means brushing up on the facts…

Interestingly, a lot of people believe the myth that weed is one of those drugs that everyone tries , when in fact this isn t the case. The survey showed that a lot of parents also fell into this trap, with most of them believing significantly more young people try cannabis than actually do.

An important area of missing information came to light when parents answered our synthetic cannabis questions. While synthetics have been heavily covered in the media over recent years, and various outlets have promoted the dangers and unknowns associated with them, only 33% accurately know what synthetic cannabis is, with almost half admitting they just don t know. Beyond this, 40% were unsure if synthetic cannabis is legal or not (it s not!), and nearly 60% didn t know if it is more dangerous than marijuana (both are dangerous, the effects of synthetic cannabis are just more unknown as the ingredients are often a mystery). Keep an eye out for our synthetics blog next week. To add to this, while many know regular cannabis is illegal, they didn t know the specific consequences in their state or territory if someone caught in possession would end up with a fine or caution or a jail sentence which is actually really good information for teenagers to be aware of.

When it came to the questions about how parents would respond if they knew their teenager was using cannabis, the responses were a mixed bag, with a few clear front runners. Most said in that situation, they would start a conversation with their child, as well as find some appropriate resources and maybe talk to a health professional. Not at all surprising, one in five would punish their child as a first course of action. While by no means a majority, but interesting to note, 7% would drug test their kids and 5% would take them to the police.

If you re unsure of how to start this important conversation with your teenager, you re definitely not alone! Keep an eye out as NCPIC is currently working on a great online portal for parents which will provide information, advice, parenting blogs and the opportunity to share your experiences with others. In the meantime, we have a growing supportive group on Faceboo, and some great resources to start you off, including our Talking to young people able cannabis booklet.

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