How to talk to your kids about medical marijuana

In Children, Feature Stories by AdrienneB

Steven Stairs has no qualms about talking to his 11-year-old daughter and five-year-old son about his medical marijuana use. The Winnipeg resident has been legally growing his own medicine since 2009, with about 45 to 50 plants in his backyard. Stairs smokes daily to relieve stress, treat eye pain associated with glaucoma, and maintain his vision. He says he has no reason to hide his medical marijuana use from his children.

“We need to have a real dialogue with our children,” says Stairs. “We have to start by talking to our families and normalizing it. I smoke weed all day long.”

Stairs knows the types of videos some teachers show kids to discourage them from trying drugs. He doesn’t want his daughter experimenting with narcotics either, but he also doesn’t want her to associate the stereotypical image of “lazy stoner” with her dad.

“I’m her father who does his job, pays the bills and gets her to bed on time,” says Stairs. He wants his kids to understand he can still do all the things he’s supposed to and be responsible while using medical marijuana.

A drawing by Steven Stairs' children

A drawing by Steven Stairs’ children

By being honest and talking to his kids about medical marijuana, Stairs says he knows they’ll come to him first when they have questions or they’re confronted with the opportunity to try drugs. “I’m not going to enable them, but I want them to have all the information they need to make decisions themselves,” he says. He tells his kids marijuana is a serious medicine, can’t be used without control and should not be used by those who are underage.

He adds: “We have to be able to talk about it without feeling like we’re criminals.”

So far, Stairs hasn’t encountered issues with many other parents, although as his kids get older, he fears he’ll run into more concerned parents who are worried their children will have easy access to marijuana if they’re at his house. He continues to be open with other parents and explain his situation. “I’m not a drug trafficker,” he says. “I’m just a dad who’s going blind.”

Tips on talking to kids about marijuana

“People will have different ideas [about talking to children about medical marijuana, just like parents have different ideas about talking to children about any topic,” says Herb Couch, a board member representing western Canada for the Educators for Sensible Drug Policy and a retired primary school teacher based in Nelson, British Columbia. “Parents will have strongly held beliefs. Medical marijuana is still a controversial topic for many people.”

Couch, who taught mostly primary grades 1-3, offers these tips for speaking with children about medical marijuana:

  • Keep information age appropriate. “Keep it simple. Usually, children just want short answers.”
  • Keep your conversations normal. If you’re on edge, your kids will be on edge.
  • Tell the truth. “You don’t have to explain everything, but don’t lie to your children.”
  • Family matters are private. “There needs to be a discussion about an adult’s health issues being personal and what is private family information.” You may be ready to explain things to your kids, but not to have them try explaining it back to other people on your behalf.
  • Be positive and reassuring. Let your kids know you’re open to answering questions.
  • Get some great books and read them regularly. Couch recommends Mommy’s Funny Medicine and It’s Just a Plant.

Also, Couch recommends consulting this fact sheet on “10 tips for talking with kids about tough issues,” which can help provide some talking points to get you started when you want to talk to your kids about medical marijuana.

According to the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, “Studies show that children who feel that they can talk with their parents openly and honestly about sex are less likely to engage in high-risk behaviour as teens than kids who do not feel they can talk with their parents about the subject.” If we apply the same logic to medical marijuana, kids who grow up in homes with parents who medicate with marijuana and talk to them openly and frequently about it will be more comfortable asking questions and may make more responsible decisions.

“The most profound thing you can do is just to be honest,” says Stairs. “People have heard whatever they want to hear about pot for decades, but I don’t think it’s fair for outsiders to dictate how my kids see me. I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking their father is doing something illegal or harmful to them.”

Photos courtesy Steven Stairs

AdrienneBrownMediReviewABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adrienne Brown is a freelance writer and editor in Kitchener-Waterloo, Ontario. She writes about what she loves: travel, food, health, homes, décor, gardens, families and anything else that catches her attention. She loves to learn new things and is always looking for an adventure. Her work has been published in Canadian Living, Today’s Parent, Chill, Canadian Gardening and many other publications.