DEAR ABBY: I am the single mom of a terrific 6-year-old boy. "Matthew" is smart, happy and generally makes good choices when given options. My problem? I'm terrified of the future.
I hear horror stories about kids who take drugs and the downward spiral their lives take. Matthew's father made poor choices regarding drugs and alcohol -- one of the many reasons I divorced him -- so my son is genetically predisposed to addiction. What is to stop him from accepting drugs from friends or acquaintances?
One of my parenting styles has been to let Matthew make choices and live with the consequences, hoping that the price he pays when he is young will be a lower one that when he gets older -- as long as he's not going to hurt himself or others.
If I explain that drugs and alcohol for kids aren't acceptable, in short, "forbidding it," he may rebel. I know he is only 6, but these fears keep me up at night.
Is there an established, proven course of action that parents can take starting at this age to help in the prevention of future horrors? -- SLEEPLESS IN THE HEARTLAND
DEAR SLEEPLESS: Yes, there is. The answer is clear, open communication and education. Talk consistently with your son about the fact that experimenting with drugs and alcohol can cause permanent damage to a young person's developing brain.
When he is a little older, add to that message the fact that it is especially important for him to avoid these things since he has a genetic predisposition to alcoholism that runs in the family. He needs to understand that you are not speaking "generally," but that, where others might have a margin for error, he does not.
Be sure to allow Matthew to communicate honestly with you without fear of punishment. If he is a bright child, he will heed the warning and understand that he can take his concerns to you regardless of the subject.