PREVENTION DOES NOT START WHEN THE ABUSE IS ALREADY A FACT
Prevention starts before it becomes a reality!
Survey results show that we still have a long way to go in our efforts to prevent cannabis use and avoid the toll it can take on a young person’s life. Parents have an important role in this effort and can strongly influence their children’s attitudes and behaviours. However, the subject of cannabis use has become increasingly difficult to talk about—in part, because of the mixed messages being conveyed by the media – in magazines, newspapers, pop songs, on tv and radio. These often glamourise and normalise drug use and many young people think that ‘everyone else is doing drugs’ when in fact it is a very small percentage – and drug use by young people is actually going down.
In addition, many parents of today’s teens may have used cannabis when they were younger, which could make talking openly, and setting definitive rules about its use more difficult. The cannabis used in the l960s had between 0.2% and 3% THC content (the chemical that gets you high) – the cannabis available today is more often than not ‘skunk’ – and the THC content is more like 12% and upwards. It is easy to see that it is not the same substance at all and that is a big difference.
If you really think your child is using cannabis choose the right moment to get into a chat – not when they have just come in and rushed upstairs to their bedroom, not when they are in an argumentative mood or are late getting up – but perhaps when you are chatting sociably in the kitchen or watching a tv programme together —and say calmly “ I love you and it is my job to protect you – I’m concerned about you and believe you might be using dope – your grades are dropping, you have a new group of friends, you never have any money, you have stopped going to your club – do you want to tell me about it ?”
Don’t necessarily expect them to answer honestly – though they might. The very fact that you have picked up on things may be enough to help them resist pressure from friends to use again. Or help them to refuse offers of drugs if they feel they are beginning to become too involved.
Talk to your teens about what is going on in their personal lives It is not uncommon for parents to be unaware of their teen’s cannabis use at first, sometimes a child has been using for up to two years before a parent begins to think drugs might be the reason for a change in their child. The short-term effects of marijuana can be easily overlooked as symptoms of simple teenage angst in the midst of a stressful, coming-of-age period in their lives. So how can parents determine the difference? By simply looking closer into the following changes in their teen’s daily life:
- A drop in academic grades. Marijuana affects memory, judgment and perception.
- Weaker performances in sports or other athletic activity. Marijuana affects the cerebellum, the part of our brain that controls balance and coordination.
- Leaving the house without an explanation or coming home later than usual.
- Feeling more tired than usual during the day or changes in sleep habits.
- Increased moodiness or agitation. Marijuana may actually increase anxiety in some users.
- Loss of interest and motivation in school and/or clubs and/or hobbies.
- Change in friends.
- Red rimmed eyes
It may be that your teen’s grades are dropping because they simply aren’t studying, they are agitated over a disagreement with a friend or an unhealthy diet and late nights is leading to their fatigue. However, even if these reasons may be the case, marijuana use often starts as a way to cope with these feelings. Find out what is going on with your teens, create an open dialogue and do not be afraid to be labelled as the “meddling” parent to find out what is going on. Always keep calm and listen more than speak – and don’t ‘preach’ – these are not opportunities to verbally discipline youngsters but rather a chance to offer them support and help and encourage them to open up to you with their feelings and worries.
The human brain does not fully mature until the early twenties. Among the last areas to develop are those that govern impulse control and planning. So what might that mean for teens? On one hand, they may be more adventurous than adults, willing to take chances…on the other, this could involve risky behaviours, including drug use. The trick is to find ways to encourage your kids to be the unique individuals they are, without exposing themselves to the dangers of experimenting with drugs—including cannabis. Talking openly about it is a good start.
In addition, many parents of today’s teens may have used cannabis when they were younger, which could make talking openly and setting definitive rules about its use more difficult. The cannabis used in the l960s had between 0.2% and 3% THC content (the chemical that gets you high) – the cannabis available today is more often than not ‘skunk’ – and the THC content is more like 12% and upwards.
It is easy to see that it is not the same substance at all – and that is the big difference.
Talking to our children about drug abuse is not always easy, but it is crucial. Use ‘teachable moments’ – begin a discussion around a newspaper article or a tv programme. Ask ‘do any of the kids in your class/school do drugs ? What do your friends think about this ? But remember to stay calm and listen ! If a child opens up to say some of the pupils in their school do drugs it is not a good idea to jump down their throats and shout “well you had better not let me catch you getting involved – or similar ! Sometimes, just beginning the conversation is the hardest part.
You can also get involved in your community and seek out drug abuse prevention programs that you and your child can participate in together. Checking out what drug prevention education is being offered in their school is also very useful – make sure the lessons emphasise ‘don’t do drugs’ and don’t suggest that ‘all pupils will be offered drugs, and may well experiment with them – so let us teach them harm reduction strategies and how to use drugs safely……sadly this approach is very common in many schools. There is no way to use drugs safely – though there may be ways to use less dangerously – for example for youngsters sniffing volatile substances it is less harmful for them to spray on to a piece of cloth and sniff that rather than spraying a product from an aerosol can directly down the throat.
Ann Stoker National Drug Prevention Alliance 2014