Have you ever talked to your kids about the potential consequences of drug abuse?

Schools may offer their own programs that educate students about the important topic, but advocates in New Jersey say it is crucial for parents and guardians to be part of the conversation — and they need to get involved before kids reach an age at which falling victim to peer pressure is more likely.

"I think those conversations can't wait until a child is in their teen years," said Angelo Valente, executive director of the Partnership for a Drug-Free New Jersey. "If they're not learning it in their home, they're learning it through peers, they're learning it on the internet."

According to surveys released by PDFNJ, parents consistently report that they have spoken to their child about drugs. Between 2006 and 2016, the rate floated between 93% and 96%, the surveys find. On average, parents started the conversations when their children were 9 or 10 years old.

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But a national survey released in 2021 by DrugAbuse.com found that 50% of parents, including 50% of the New Jersey parents surveyed, "admit they've avoided speaking to their children about the dangers of drug use."

New Jersey in 2017 posted the highest percentage among the states of juvenile arrests, 9.89%, that were related to drugs, according to an analysis of FBI data by Texas-based Greenhouse Treatment Center.

"We know that when a young person does experiment with drugs, that a certain percentage of those young people will become dependent, and that dependency can lead to addiction very easily," Valente said.

DrugAbuse.com, part of American Addiction Centers, advises parents to be honest with their children, but know where to draw the line. Parents are also advised to listen to what their children want to say and ask — it's possible the child has already experimented and wants to discuss the experience.

"Conversations are a two-way street, so be sure to not end up delivering a monologue — open the floor up to discussion," the group says.

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