A quarter of UK children aged between 11 and 15 have been offered drugs. Starting discussions early - and keeping those conversations going - can be crucial when it comes to legal and illegal highs, says psychiatrist Dr Owen Bowden-Jones

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How to talk to kids about drugs

He has written a book called The Drug Conversation to help parents navigate the thorny issue.

“What I’m advocating is that parents have a conversation with their children around the age of 10 to 12 years, signposting them to good information, because there’s so much misinformation out there.”

The book also aims to help parents who are aware, or suspect, their child is using drugs, and want to know what to do. Research shows less than one in 20 British children under 13 think it’s fine to try cannabis out of curiosity, yet by the age of 15, one in five think it’s okay.

Cannabis is the drug young people are most likely to take, with a fivefold increase in its use between the ages of 13 and 15 years.

Bowden-Jones points out that many children learn often incorrect information about drugs from the playground, the internet, or misinformed friends, so balancing that erroneous advice with credible information from parents at an early age can make a vital difference to the way a child views drugs.

“As well as giving them good information, it shows your child this is a conversation you’re happy to have, and that this isn’t a taboo subject,” he explains. “That’s really important, because if they run into trouble with drugs later on, or there’s something they want to know about them, they’re much more likely to talk to you if you’ve already opened the discussion.”

Dr Bowden-Jones suggests these top tips on how to talk to your children about drugs

Don’t wait till there’s a crisis to start talking about drugs - begin the conversations years before this possibility could arise.

Prepare what you’re going to say, ideally with the other parent. Reliable information is available from the Government website www.talktofrank.com

Begin with less personal questions like, ‘What have you learned at school about drugs?’

Don’t lecture - make sure it’s a two-way discussion.

Give your opinion of drugs, but explain why and don’t exaggerate.

Discuss alcohol too.

Tell your child where they can find accurate information.

Mention any history of drug problems in the family. If you’ve taken drugs yourself, decide beforehand how much you’ll say about this.

Take time for questions, and ask them questions - what do they think of drugs?

Give praise and return to the topic in a week.

The Drug Conversation by Dr Owen Bowden-Jones is published by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, £12.99.