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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am deeply disturbed by something I see every day on the streets and roads.

Last week I was driving behind a couple in a sports vehicle. A boy who could not have been more than 3 years old was with them, standing in the back seat with his head halfway out the window.

I am a mother and know what it's like to have your child cry and tell you that you're mean because you want the child strapped in a car seat. But believe me, I would much rather hear my child cry and be upset for a few minutes than to lie awake at night asking God to forgive me for causing his death by giving in because he didn't want to be strapped in.

I don't understand how a parent can be so careless, but I see it all the time. I'm not sure what to do about it. Should I try to catch up to them and tell them how dangerous it is? Or should I call the police on my car phone?

I would like to tell every parent in the world to tell the child who is resisting being buckled in, "No, you cannot ride without being buckled in -- I love you too much to endanger you!"

Abby, please print my letter. I can't bear the thought of another little life being lost because someone failed to safeguard a child in his or her car. -- SHANNON M. BARRETT, AURORA, COLO.

DEAR SHANNON: I'm printing your letter in its entirety, Leaving a small child unsecured in a car, regardless of how well-meaning the adult's motives might be, is child endangerment. It takes only a second for tragedy to happen. So, for the sake of your little ones, please, readers, take Shannon's letter to heart. And while you're at it, buckle up your own seat belt. It sets a good example.

DEAR ABBY: I couldn't pass up the chance to respond to "Sadder and Wiser Now," who learned the hard way that it's best to keep quiet about a loved one's drug addiction rather than face being "roasted" by unbelieving parents.

I was one of those parents who denied any drug or alcohol involvement in dealing with my son's abusive and unpredictable behavior. I also had the misconception that drug and alcohol use are a part of "growing up" and that it is only a phase.

Reality hit unexpectedly. My son woke me in the middle of the night begging for help because he was "sick." I found him in a bloody heap looking like 150 pounds of raw hamburger, due to self-inflicted wounds while on a dose of rock cocaine a "friend" had given him. It is a nightmare that will always be a part of me. I almost lost my son, and it could have been me or my daughter he sliced up. My son remembers nothing about the whole ordeal.

Out of this nightmare came the need to educate myself, to understand what had happened to make my son do such a thing to himself. Sharing my pain with other parents who are also at a loss as to what to do with a drug- or alcohol-dependent loved one has helped me cope with the senselessness of what happened. Finding Al-Anon, a 12-step program, helped me to recognize that I couldn't help my son unless he was willing to help himself.

Our children are never too young to start drug and alcohol education, and we as adults are never too old to change our way of thinking. Our future is at stake.

My son has paid dearly for his adolescent mistakes, but God does answer prayers. He is now a married, hardworking father of two. -- NELLIE PHIPPS, FILLMORE, CALIF.

DEAR NELLIE PHIPPS: Your experience was harrowing, and it's fortunate that it wasn't more serious -- which it easily could have been. Your conclusion is one that I have always emphasized: the importance of opening the lines of communication with children very early, and encouraging honesty and openness, with no topics off-limits.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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