As the director of the Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition for the last nine years, I have spoken with many parents, grandparents and caregivers about their concerns as well as their hopes and wishes for their children. Many are worried that today’s world is a complicated place where risks such as drug use and underage drinking are bombarding children every day in the media. They have trouble navigating around the many messages children are exposed to all around them. They want to know what they can do to keep their children safe and healthy. Here is what we in the prevention world recommend. It is simple. Talk. They hear you. Repeat often. Start now.

Parents can be the number one influence on a child’s decision whether or not to engage in risky behaviors such as drinking alcohol or using drugs or smoking. Yes, the opinion and influence of their peers is very powerful but you are still more important. Yes, these conversations are difficult and can be uncomfortable. A resource very helpful in having those conversations is Parent UP (parentupvt.org), a campaign from the Vermont Department of Health (VDH). This website connects you to information from VDH on age appropriate things to share with your children, how to empower your children to say no, and steps every family can take to have those conversations. I highly recommend it.

If you prefer interacting with other parents and have time to practice your newly acquired skills, consider participating in a parent education workshop. Registration is now open for Parenting Teens Wisely class on October 23, a three-hour workshop for parents of pre-teens and teens. Two trained facilitators will guide participants to help build understanding and communication among family members. To register for Parenting Teens Wisely visit www.parentingteenswisely.eventbrite.com. A more extensive version of Parenting Teens Wisely is also available online. Contact the BAPC office for details.

Guiding Good Choices, a 5 week class for parents and caregivers of 4th through 8th graders, which began on October 2, is currently in progress. Eight families have enrolled for this free parenting workshop. Both Guiding Good Choices and Parenting Teens Wisely courses will be offered throughout Windham County during the 2013-2014 academic year; funding is provided by the Strategic Prevention Framework Partnership for Success Grant.

What else can you do as a parent? Set clear expectations for behavior with consequences. Practice good supervision and consistent discipline. Minimize conflict in the family. Eat dinner as a family as often as possible -- this is a good time to talk about the issues your children face in a non-threatening way. Another important safeguard in protecting your child is to talk with the parents of your child’s friends and let them know what your expectations and consequences are for your children. Encourage them to call or text you when your children have plans together to check in and invite open communications about their expectations and rules.

You would never allow your 11-year-old to smoke cigarettes. You would never allow them to ride in a vehicle without a seat belt. We all know the risk of both activities thanks to years of education and media attention. Together, we can communicate the risks of underage drinking and drug misuse just as clearly in our community.

Beth Shrader is the director of Brattleboro Area Prevention Coalition (BAPC), a local nonprofit that organizes community efforts to be involved in the ongoing prevention and reduction of alcohol, tobacco, and other drug abuse in the Windham Southeast area. The coalition meets on the second Friday of each month at 12 p.m., lunch is provided and all are welcome. Please visit the www.BrattleboroAreaPreventionCoalition.org or call 802-257-2175 for more information on our prevention efforts and upcoming parenting education workshops.