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When should you talk to kids about cannabis? 5th grade, one expert suggests

Have a question about legal marijuana in Illinois or medical marijuana in Missouri? Ask here, and we'll update this guide with answers as we report them out.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri’s children may have more questions about cannabis since voters said "yes" to Amendment 3 — legalizing recreational use for those 21 and older.

Cannabis dispensaries are expected to begin selling to recreational users by next month. The new market means more advertisements to sell products like edibles and THC vape cartridges — items that could be tempting to young people.

So, how should adults talk to the youth in their lives about cannabis? Prevent Ed is a nonprofit that does outreach in schools from pre-k through high school to talk to students about substance use and abuse, as well as to provide resources to adults on how to have productive conversations that honor and respect the youth.

On Monday, Prevent Ed Executive Director Nichole Dawsey joined St. Louis on the Air to share her advice on when to have “the talk” about substance use, how to get past the “awkward conversation” and talk with — not at — young people about cannabis.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Elaine Cha: When is the earliest I should talk to kids about cannabis and other substances? Where should the conversation happen?

Nichole Dawsey: The research says around fifth grade, in really age-appropriate ways…about 10, 11 [years old]. We know that we can teach this in school through the health classes, but then when they go home … if they're going to neighborhoods, or families that are not maybe providing the same information, or providing counter information, or — I would argue worse — no information, then that can sort of undo what we just taught in school.

Nichole Dawsey is the executive director of Prevent Ed
Miya Norfleet
St. Louis Public Radio
Nichole Dawsey is the executive director of Prevent Ed.

Cha: How should I talk with young people about cannabis if I’m not their parent or guardian?

Dawsey: We know that the overwhelming majority of middle and high school students report that the adults in their lives, their concerns, their expectations, their opinions, influence the extent to which they're going to use substances, cannabis included. And so let's go back to expectations. You're not saying you're going to hate them forever, if they do these things. But you are saying this is my expectation that you will not. Or that you will report it to me. Or you will be open with me or whatever is the expectation. My hope is that [they] would not be doing it before 21. … But what happens if you violate that expectation? Those conversations can really begin in middle school, saying, “What do you think an appropriate consequence would be?” And thinking about that together … that’s for a girl scout leader or a coach, aunt or an uncle, having those open conversations and involving the kids and the young people in them as well.

Cha: Do youth and teens want to talk about cannabis with adults?

Dawsey: They absolutely want to talk about it. There are times in a young person's life where peers are the most important. We also know that adults who they value as mentors, who they value as people who are not perfect, but people that genuinely care about them, who want what's best for them. Those are the people that they're seeking out. If we can utilize peers, like maybe juniors and seniors to talk to freshmen and sophomores. That is chef's kiss. But then if we can have some adults who genuinely just care, you know, who's coming from a place of, ‘This is what I'm hoping for you.’ They want to talk and they are open.

To hear more from Nichole Dawsey, resources from Prevent Ed and real experiences from two young adults about learning and talking about cannabis, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast, Spotify, Google Podcast, Stitcher, or by clicking the play button below.

When should you talk to kids about cannabis? 5th grade, one expert suggests

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Miya is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."