This article was prepared by Stíofán Caomhanach who is a Researcher and Activist, and the Founder of Legalize Cannabis Ireland for Talking Drugs.
World (TD) – I’ve been studying drug policy and advocating for drug policy reform for years now, so I didn’t expect to be so unprepared when asked: “What do we tell our kids about drugs?”
This question prompted me to put serious thought to the issue and try to come up with a comprehensive answer. The slightly vague short answer is… the truth. But that is to ignore the vast emotional complexity of the issue. Our children are intelligent and complex individuals that absorb a vast amount of data which defines their personalities through various social interactions, peers, and family networks.
As parents, we need to respect our children’s intelligence and trust them to make sensible decisions when armed with the right knowledge and information – to reduce the potential harm to themselves or other peers in their social experiences. By the age of ten, many children will know what drugs are, where to get them, what they look like and most of all which ones are legal and illegal!
Unfortunately, having to explain this legal difference to our kids detracts from the important educational message that we should be giving them.
In truth, what is really needed are nationwide drug education programs focused primarily on parents and young adults, teaching them the facts about the most prevalent drugs used in our society, and the real risk factors posed by different substances. Without a doubt, two dangerous and potentially dependency-forming drugs are also ones that our children regularly come into contact with, because we have somehow educated ourselves to believe that these drugs are safe because they’re legal.
Alcohol and tobacco are obviously the examples highlighted, and the confusion caused by this misleading assumption is undoubtedly a factor in the thousands of associated deaths that take place every year. I won’t vilify these legal substances or those who use them; I’d rather like to focus on one of them as a good example for future policy making.
Cigarette consumption has been plummeting in many Western countries over the past decade – particularly among young people. This is primarily thanks to accurate awareness campaigns about the health risks, bans on advertising, strict rules on product displays, and indoor consumption bans. In turn, this is having a real effect in reducing tobacco-related illnesses. A similar approach should be taken in respect of other drugs, including alcohol.