Over the next few weeks, Sussex County children will begin their 2017-2018 school year. Whether it is your child’s first day of Kindergarten, middle school or high school, this is an exciting time where many opportunities, experiences and life lessons happen. What does your child need to stay safe and succeed in our fast paced world? Below you find help to ensure your child starts the school year off with tips, tools and resources to manage the hustle and bustle that ensues during the school year! As your child develops new relationships, experiences unfamiliar social situations and becomes increasing exposed to pop culture and media, questions about alcohol and other drug use will inevitably arise. It is never too early to start laying the foundation that is needed to prevent substance use. In fact, the average age of first use of substances in New Jersey is 11.2 years old, which is 5th grade! Changes in risk-taking behaviors, including substance use, increases during middle school years. In Sussex County, we’ve seen a 28% increase in marijuana use from 8th to 9th grade and a 171% increase in those that report using marijuana between 9th and 10th grade (Sussex County PRIDE Survey 2015.) Understanding effective ways to communicate with your child about substance use is vital in delaying any use. Parental disapproval is the #1 reason kids choose to NOT use substances. The Partnership for Drug-Free kids has created a Back to School Survival Guide to help guide parents through the years and ease what could be difficult conversations during these years. Great conversations can begin as early as pre-school and continue through elementary school into middle school, on to high school and even help as they prepare for and progress through college. We know of one mom who positively influenced her son, helping him chose not to drink alcohol in college because of her continued conversations with him and his friends. Her son’s group of friends looked up to her and appreciated her interest in talking to them about what was a very challenging time for them, socially. Remember, at age 8 or 18, it is never too early or too late to have conversations about substance use ~ Talk. They Hear You!