If I could impose one universal law, I'd require that all parents talk to their children about the Big Five touchy topics: drugs, alcohol, peer pressure, sex and AIDS.
Many parents find these topics awkward or complicated, so I've picked what I think are the clearest and most persuasive books to help start some family discussions.
Drugs--Every year, millions of children make their first experiment with drugs. How can you talk to them about drugs without lecturing and accusing?
You'll get some help from "Straight Talk With Kids: Improving Communication, Building Trust, and Keeping Your Children Drug-Free." It's published by the Scott Newman Center, founded by actor Paul Newman.
The book explains prevention tactics such as starting honest and peaceful discussions, making and keeping home rules, and building children's self-esteem.
There's also a lengthy section on detecting drug use and confronting the child if you're suspicious.
"Straight Talk" costs $4.50 in paperback.
Alcohol--I've noticed that a hot topic among my students on Monday morning is how drunk they got on Saturday night.
It's a highly entertaining subject for teen-agers, but it obscures the fact that drunk driving is the No. 1 killer of American teen-agers. Parents need to get that message through, and "The Contract for Life" is a good place to start.
Written by Robert Anastas, founder of Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD), "Contract" offers guidelines for talking to your child about alcohol.
Best of all, it contains the nationally popular Contract for Life, an agreement in which parents and children can work together to find alternatives to driving drunk. The appendixes include the signs of alcohol abuse, a drug awareness test and the SADD guide to throwing fun alcohol-free parties.
It costs $4.95 in paperback.
Peer Pressure--For many students, peer pressure is just as acute as academic pressure, sometimes even more so.
"Peer Pressure: How to Teach Young People to be Assertive, Independent, and Self-Confident" is, I think, a parent's best weapon.
It can help you discern the difference between harmless and dangerous conformity, and it explains how to set rules and communicate openly.
My favorite feature is its role-playing exercises, which teach children to speak up for themselves and defend their rights. These scenarios are based on everyday situations in which kids are often bamboozled by peers.
Written by Maria Sullivan, "Peer Pressure" costs $9.95 in paperback.
Sex--Teen-age sexuality has to be one of the conversations most dreaded by parents. But face it: If your children don't get the information and advice they need from you, they'll get it from their peers. And the fact that more than 1 million teen-agers get pregnant each year tells me that the advice they get from their peers isn't very good.
You can set your child straight by sharing "A Parent's Guide to Teenage Sexuality." In it, author Jay Gale simplifies the basics of biology, safe sex, and AIDS prevention, contraception, single-parenting and other topics.
The related 15-page glossary is excellent; this 200-page paperback is a bargain at $9.95.
AIDS--Even though Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is spreading rapidly among America's teen-agers, many still think that they're immune.
You can give your son or daughter a dose of reality (and healthy fear) with "Risky Times: How to Be AIDS-Smart and Stay Healthy," by Jeanne Blake.
Blake covers all the bases with chapters such as "What is AIDS?" "Condoms," and "Vaccines and Treatments."
There are also pictures and words of warning from well-known entertainers, athletes and teen-agers.
It's a steal at $5.95 in paperback.
These books can be ordered at almost any bookstore. Among the stores where you're likely to find them in stock are Dutton's in Brentwood, Children's Book and Music Center in West Los Angeles and Midnight Special in Santa Monica.