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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: The letter from "No Money Machine" -- the parent who is cutting corners in order to send her son to the high school prom -- prompts this letter.

Abby, going to a senior prom is a privilege -- not a God-given right. I came from from a large family, and our education (12 years of Catholic school) was paid for by our parents, but we had to earn our own money for all the "perks" such as yearbooks, class rings and proms.

I have raised my son the same way. At 16, he's already had a semi-formal under his belt. He asked if he could have his Christmas gift of money in advance so he could pay $35 for tickets, $15 for a corsage and $10 for a secondhand tux.

If he wants to continue at the Catholic school he attends, he will have to get a summer job to help with the $1,300 tuition. His class ring will be bought with money he saves from his allowance.

Abby, as you've often said, "GIVE a man a fish and he can eat for a day. TEACH him to fish and he can eat forever."

The best gift some people can give their kids is a kick in the rear to the job market. -- NO MONEY MACHINE EITHER

DEAR NO MONEY MACHINE: You could teach a class in child development. Thanks for writing.

DEAR ABBY: Please set me straight. Is it considered poor manners to write a letter instead of having a face-to-face confrontation?

Recently, I decided to quit my job as baby sitter for a woman I'll call Mrs. Smith. She is very strong-minded and not a person I would care to debate, so to avoid being pressured to stay on with other arrangements, then kick myself afterward, I chose to write.

I dropped the letter in Mrs. Smith's mailbox. As soon as she read it, she telephoned to say that we would still be friends, but she thought it was extremely "ignorant and ill-mannered" of me to have written to her instead of speaking to her. Abby, some people are easier to write to than talk to.

What do you think? Was a letter a poor vehicle for my message? -- IN THE DARK

DEAR IN: I think you used excellent judgment. Your reasons for writing to Mrs. Smith instead of risking a face-to-face confrontation were valid.

DEAR ABBY: With so many children as well as some adults unable to read, and the warning on some labels printed so small that older people can't read them, perhaps we should resume the old skull and crossbones on all poisons.

Also, now that camping season has returned, parents should avoid dressing their children in camouflage-printed clothing for picnics or camp-outs. If children wander off, they would be much harder to locate.

Bright orange or yellow is the most visible color. Campers should keep that in mind. -- DULUTH, MINN.

DEAR DULUTH: And a whistle hung on an elastic cord around the neck isn't a bad idea for campers. But make sure the elastic cord can't strangle the wearer should it get caught on some object.

People are eating them up! For Abby's favorite recipes, send a long, business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Cookbooklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054. (Postage is included.)

4900 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64112; (816) 932-6600