Just as you have a talk with your children about “the birds and the bees,” you can help deter them from drug use by having a conversation about the facts before they face the risk of trying them.

The numbers are pretty staggering. More than 1 in 20 8th grade students reported using alcoholmarijuana, or illicit drugs in 2018. On average, kids try drugs for the first time when they’re between the ages of 13 and 15. The younger someone is when they try drugs, the more likely they are to become addicted.

Kids who aren’t properly informed about the effects of dangerous behaviors are at greater risk of experimenting, especially when it comes to drugs.Remember, you’re a role model for your children, and your views on alcohol, tobacco, and drugs can strongly influence how they think about them. So, when is the right time to start the conversation?

Preschool to Age 7: Make it a part of your general health and safety conversations.

Believe it or not, you can lay the groundwork for a discussion as early as preschool. For instance, whenever you give your child medicine for a fever or an antibiotic, you can discuss why and when these medicines are given. “Teachable moments” can also arise while watching movies or television together. If a character has a cigarette, discuss smoking, nicotine addiction, and what smoking does to a person’s body. This can lead into a conversation about other drugs and how they could cause harm.

Ages 8 to 12: Ask for their thoughts about drugs.

As your kids get older, you can start asking them what they think about drugs in an open-ended way. If you’re nonjudgmental and show that you’re truly listening, you’re more likely to get an honest response. Starting a dialogue at these ages keeps the door open, and even if they don’t immediately continue the conversation, it can get them thinking about the subject. Current events like news about an athlete’s steroid use can be an excellent conversation starter.

Ages 13 to 17: Know drug use begins around this age and be ready for them to bring up the conversation.

Based on the statistics noted above, your child probably knows other kids who use drugs or alcohol at this age. Many kids are still willing to express their thoughts or concerns about it,  and yours may ask you specific questions. Use these opportunities to talk about the legal issues and the possibility that they or someone could get killed or seriously injured due to drug use.

An open family environment, where children can talk about feelings and be praised for achievements, encourages them to come forward with their questions and concerns. Try to create this atmosphere at a young age and you’ll have a better chance of making a lasting impression.