Drugs Free Kids navigates tricky conversations

A new brochure and PSA campaign aims to equip parents to talk with their kids about cannabis.
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Drug Free Kids knows it can be hard for parents to talk to their kids about cannabis, especially when they might not have the right facts or are worried their own past experiments might be used against them. So its latest campaign is focused on giving them the tools and strategies they need to make those conversations effective.

The organization has launched a new campaign around its “Cannabis Talk Kit,” a concept adapted from Partnership for Drug Free Kids in the U.S. with support and research from the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Health Canada.

The brochure – available in a physical form or as a free download on the Drug Free Kids website – offers parents evidence-based facts about cannabis, its effects and its legal status, as well as strategies, tips and scenario-based examples of how to talk to their children about its use.

To promote the brochure, a new PSA supporting the campaign shows a dad rehearsing a discussion with his teen about cannabis, struggling to come up with ways to deal with questions regarding his own pot use in his youth or what to do if the teen points to things like how cannabis “grows naturally.”

Cundari led creative on the campaign, with Health Canada providing support by printing and distributing the brochure.

Past campaigns from Drug Free Kids (previously known as Partnership for a Drug Free Canada) have used a much more serious tone, whether it was addressing prescription drug abuse or driving while high. Marc Paris, executive director of Drug Free Kids Canada, says the nature of the subject matter allowed for a bit more levity in the messaging.

“This is not fentanyl, this is pot,” Paris says. “If there was going to be an opportunity to not be so serious and be a bit more light and humourous, this was it.”

Attitudes towards cannabis use have changed in Canada, but despite that, Paris says parents the organization has spoken to still have angst about talking to their kids about the drug with legalization on the horizon.

“Parents often feel ill-equipped to talk about drugs, because they think kids know more about it,” he says. “Since there’s so much information and stories out there about cannabis – about both the positives and negatives of using it – we thought we needed to set the record straight and provide parents with the most accurate, up to date, evidence-based information possible.”

Much like past campaigns from Drug Free Kids, the campaign speaks directly to parents with the idea they will then pass the information along to their kids. Drug Free Kids’ internal research says even though most parents don’t believe their teens listen to them, the top reason teens do stay away from drugs is to not disappoint their parents.

Using parents as a conduit also helps break through the skepticism the internal research suggests many teens have towards PSAs. At the very least, the hope is that the campaign will at least help parents feel more able to start a conversation.

“If there’s a conversation, at least it gives parents a chance to find out what’s going on in their kids’ lives,” Paris says. “They can find the root cause of finding out why they want to smoke pot. If they are using it to manage their anxiety or something like that, it could also help parents talk to them about what is causing their anxiety in the first place.”