- Children have a different way of processing concepts, so with them not just any language will do. However, this does not mean that you have to avoid controversial issues. As cannabis is more present in society and political debates, children will be more aware of its existence, and they will ask questions.
- According to experts and mothers who have been through this, there is no reason to be afraid of answering their questions. Education will help them make decisions as adults.
Erroneous beliefs about cannabis are slowly disappearing from society's collective consciousness, especially in those countries where the use of cannabis has been legalised. Thus, as is the case with many other aspects present in daily life, it is normal for children to ask questions and want to know what this plant with exceptional properties is – one that a family member may grow at home, and consume for leisure or health reasons.
"Children are going to have questions about cannabis as its cultural presence and access to it grows," explains Allison Ray Benavides, a social worker and founder of the Pediatric Cannabis Support Group San Diego (California). She is also the mother of little Robby, who was diagnosed with a rare form of incurable epilepsy when he was only three years, old in 2013. Thanks to treatment with a concentrate of CBD his seizures have been greatly reduced, along with the side effects of other drugs that damaged his quality of life.
Now the American is helping other parents in similar situations. Advice on how to deal with children is part of her counsel: "They need honest and practical information. We want them to be able to make decisions as adults, based on education," says Ray. Therefore, it is important to "create a safe place to explore together the benefits and risks of using cannabis, as well as the personal and family values involved," she continues.
Explaining to young children cannabis's characteristics and the peculiarities of its recreational and medical use is not as simple as talking about it with an adolescent or an adult, and entails various difficulties. According to several experts in education and childhood we consulted, ideally parents should wait until they reach an age of around 12, when they "can discriminate between situations in another manner," and understand that cannabis is reserved for adults. Unfortunately, Ray could not wait that long, so she says that, while she does not think that everyone needs to talk to their three year olds about cannabis, the conversation can be moved up if "it becomes relevant in his or her life". She adds: "I do not think it needs to be flagged as an 'important talk' that must be had at a certain age".
When facing this situation, it is advisable for parents to be honest with their children, while "adapting to their language and ability to understand certain things", in addition to basing arguments on children's way of thinking, their way of learning, and the best way to talk to them. There is no need to lie, but one must keep in mind that they "do not have an adult's reasoning ability". Unlike their elders, children base their reasoning on specific concepts and their analysis is simpler: mainly, they are based on dichotomies such as "yes or no", without considering other more complex intermediate possibilities, such that that certain issues can generate confusion for them.
Stories as a tool for parents
Fortunately, there are some resources to help parents in this delicate task "Stories and games are a good option to address complicated issues ", experts say. The children's book The Gloops and the Special Plant by J.R. Fox is a good example. On the back one can read the summary of the story: "Where the Gloops live, there grows a very special plant. This plant has not always been understood. In fact, once upon a time the Old Kings wanted the plant gone forever . "
The protagonists of this book, full of beautiful illustrations, are a girl, Molly Gloop, her family and the community in which they live. The story delves into the history of cannabis prohibition, as well as its industrial and medical uses, and the social prejudices surrounding the plant. The "Old Kings" of the story spread the rumour that the lovers of this special plant are ugly, lazy and evil.
Aware of the delicate situation that parents are dealing with, Fox has reserved a space on the book's website with advice for parents who want to talk about cannabis with their children. She recommends explaining to them that the plant is not for children, because "their bodies are small, and it can hurt them", and warning them that only "grown-ups can decide whether cannabis is good for them," so they will have to wait until they are older to do so.
In addition to Fox's story, there are other examples of children's books about cannabis, like If a Peacock Finds a Pot Leaf, whose author, Morgan Carman, consumes cannabis for health reasons. His work tells the story of Peter Peacock, who suffers from depression, but improves when he consumes a very special plant. He then shares it with other animals, friends of his, and the same plant relieves their pain, and helps them sleep better.
But the first work for children about medical cannabis is entitled Mommy's Funny Medicine by Russell Barth and Christine Lowe. Now that therapeutic cannabis is legal in more and more countries, some mothers are distributing the plant as a form of therapy to patients in need. They also face the difficult task of explaining their profession to their children, what they sell, and dealing with people harbouring prejudices who can make inappropriate comments to their children.
Chanda Macias, who runs an establishment of this kind in Fort Washington (Maryland), laments that "having children when you work in this industry is a taboo". She has explained to her six-year-old son that she works in a kind of pharmacy, and distributes a type of medicine, to keep people at from discriminating against him, or mothers or teachers from talking about it.
"Children learn by modelling, social learning," explain psychologists. This means that "they learn more from what they see and are told." Thus, one must explain the situation and all the details well. Therefore, they cite the option chosen by Macias when it comes to cannabis for therapeutic use: talking about "a medicine or something similar," because children understand what a syrup is, or pills. But the restrictions must also be pointed out to them.
Another children's book dealing with the issue of cannabis is It's Just a Plant, which tells the story of how two parents talk to a child about marijuana, including characters like a doctor and a policeman, to address the legal and health issues involved. Its author, Ricardo Cortes, says that his work "encourages parents to explore this issue and answer the questions that children have about it, always reminding them that trying 'grass' is an experience for responsible adults."
For little Robby, "cannabis is just another of his medicines," says Ray. "It is a plant, and there is no taboo about it, and we don´t have to be afraid to talk about it when it comes up," says the social worker. With proper education and a conversation containing well-chosen language, children can understand the properties of this "special plant." As they get older, "they will learn more about other reasons why people consume it", and can make a decision about it when they are adults.