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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I recently met a man I love dearly, but I don't agree with the toys he buys for his 10-year-old son, "Dale." The boy plays violent video games and is obsessed with guns to the point that we can't leave the house without him bringing a toy gun along. The video games he plays (unsupervised) are violent and gory and rated M (17 and over).

Dale is not mature for his age. In fact, he often whines when he doesn't get his way. He's allowed on the Internet without supervision, and I have walked in and caught him surfing naughty pictures. When I told his dad, he laughed and said, "Boys will be boys!"

Abby, I'm afraid for my 6-year-old daughter. A few weeks ago, Dale decided he wanted to play "good guys/bad guys" with her. When he grabbed my daughter in a choke hold and held a toy gun to her head, she became hysterical. I have since had nightmares that Dale will find a real gun, think it's one of his play guns and shoot my daughter.

I think Dale's obsession is unhealthy, and I don't think it's healthy for my daughter to be around him. How do I handle this with my boyfriend? I love him and would like to spend the rest of my life with him, but I cannot marry him at the expense of my daughter. -- PARANOID AND PERPLEXED

DEAR PARANOID AND PERPLEXED: How did your boyfriend handle the "good guys/bad guys" incident when you brought it to his attention? The answer to that question will provide you with insight into his ability to parent his son, and what your and your daughter's future will be like if you marry him. If his reaction wasn't to your satisfaction, then you must place your child's safety above your heart's desire, and you have assessed the situation correctly.

DEAR ABBY: I am a divorced, childless, independent and financially secure woman. I live happily in my upscale apartment.

How do I respond to family members, co-workers and friends who constantly ask, "Why don't you buy a house and quit throwing your money away paying rent?"

I don't want to buy a house and be tied to a 30-year mortgage. I'm perfectly happy the way things are. What is a proper response to those questions? Saying, "I don't want to" hasn't been enough. -- HAPPY RENTER IN HOUSTON

DEAR HAPPY RENTER: The responsibilities of home ownership aren't for everyone, and many individuals have realized it as bills for plumbers, electricians, roofers, insurance and property taxes mounted up. You might mention that to the inquirers, although your response to your well-meaning friends, relatives and co-workers should have been sufficient. A way to change the subject would be to say, "Now, let's talk about something else."

DEAR ABBY: My 22-year-old son told me he had a fight with his girlfriend. Am I allowed to ask him what it was about, or if they have resolved the problem? -- CURIOUS MOM IN MONTANA

DEAR CURIOUS MOM: When your son mentioned the spat, that would have been the logical time to ask what it was about. If you start probing now -- after the fact -- it could be construed as nosiness. If he's still seeing the girlfriend, it's safe to assume the problem was resolved -- so keep your mouth shut, your eyes open and let him solve his relationship issues without involving yourself in them.

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