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by Abigail Van Buren

Knowledge Is Best Weapon for Teens Tempted by Sex

DEAR ABBY: I just finished reading the letter from "Responsible Adult in New Jersey," who was sick of the argument that dispensing condoms in school encourages sex. You said you anticipated sharp criticism from some readers for printing that letter. I'd like to relate a story that made the news here in Tucson.

A 15-year-old girl was raised by strict parents who had not explained the facts of life to their daughter. They thought since she wasn't allowed to date, she didn't need to know about sex.

Despite her parents' no-dating rule, she had a boyfriend -- and she became pregnant. Too terrified to tell her parents, she kept her pregnancy a secret. She went into labor and gave birth in the toilet at a friend's house, then strangled her baby and put it into a Dumpster. She's now facing charges of first-degree murder.

When the parents were asked why they had never talked about sex to their daughter, the father replied, "I guess we were waiting for her 16th birthday."

This girl's life is ruined. Her parents' lives are ruined. And before anyone assumes that this girl is from a broken home or living in the ghetto, let me assure you that she comes from a typical, middle-class, two-parent family. She was an honor student, a star basketball player and very popular.

Parents cannot assume that because they tell their children not to do something, they won't. In the case of sex, the price the children pay is too great to take the chance. Most teen-agers think they are immortal. They cannot fathom that anything bad will happen to them. Their denial is so strong that many of them give little thought to the consequences of their actions.

My question to parents: Are you willing to bet your child's life that he or she will always follow your rules?

Abby, if this letter changes the mind of just one parent who believes that the unavailability of condoms will prevent their teen-agers from becoming sexually active, it will be worth space in your column. You may use my name. -- CAROL MONTGOMERY, TUCSON, ARIZ.

DEAR CAROL: The argument you make is intelligent and realistic. The sex drive in teen-agers can be very strong and sometimes overpowering. Farsighted parents give their children a framework within which to make their choices, and provide them with reliable information to protect them in precarious situations.