Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: You responded to "Worried in Texas," a 12-year-old boy who was concerned about how to avoid getting into a fight at school, that he should sign up for self-defense lessons.

Although it's important for the boy to have confidence in his ability to defend himself, your advice reflects traditional thinking that does little to address the problem of fighting at school. It is important for the boy to realize that he has other options.

Your sage advice is read by millions daily. Therefore you are in a unique position to help shape societal changes that could lead to an emphasis on nonviolence. Schools can play a vital role in teaching students alternative methods to address the age-old problem of bullies and fighting. Schools must provide a safe, caring environment if we expect effective learning to take place. It is a primary concern for parents and educators.

There are now thousands of schools across this nation where effective conflict resolution training and peer mediation programs have been successfully implemented. Students in elementary and secondary schools have been trained in dispute resolution skills. Such training empowers them to resolve problems peacefully and to assist their peers to do the same. Children and young adults are open to learning new skills, which can then effect positive change in their communities when they apply those skills.

I hope that "Worried in Texas" will go beyond the step of taking a self-defense course and suggest to his school principal that they start a peer mediation program together. He could significantly change the culture in his school through such action and possibly prevent younger children from having to deal with the same problem. As Mohandas K. Gandhi said, "If we wish to create a lasting peace, we must begin with the children."

For further information on school-based conflict resolution programs, contact the National Institute for Dispute Resolution, 1726 M St. NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20036-4502. -- LEO HOGAN, ED.D., ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL, SHORECREST HIGH SCHOOL, SHORELINE, WASH.

DEAR DR. HOGAN: I know you are on target about this. Dispute resolution training as a method of resolving conflict and reducing violence is a concept that originated with the Quakers and has gained popular acceptance since the mid- to late-1970s.

I contacted the National Institute for Dispute Resolution (NIDR) and was impressed to find that in a 1995 statewide survey of high schools in California, more than 70 percent of respondents indicated that student peer mediation programs reduce the incidence of suspension; and a majority of respondents also believe that the programs reduce violence. And a 1992 study of a conflict resolution in New York reported a 50 percent decline in student assaults. That's impressive!

Thank you for a letter I am sure will interest many parents, teachers and school administrators.

DEAR ABBY: Before my husband and I were married, he showered me with gifts large and small. After we married, it became my duty to send the cards and buy the gifts for family and friends.

My birthday, Mother's Day and Christmas would go by with no gift or card. I would suffer in silence, getting more and more depressed as the time went by.

Finally, after several years of this, I decided not to allow my feelings to be hurt any longer. Two weeks before the big day, I would remind him, "My birthday is in a couple of weeks, and I'd really like that dress we saw or those beautiful earrings. Why don't we go out for dinner at (blank)?"

It worked! I was happy and he was beaming with all the praise. After 37 years, he hasn't caught on yet. -- MRS. D. IN FLORIDA

DEAR MRS. D.: That's an excellent, nonconfrontational solution to a very common problem. Thanks for sharing it.

Abby shares more of her favorite, easy-to-prepare recipes. To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, More Favorite Recipes, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600