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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My daughter, "Sybil," has had a boyfriend I'll call "Todd" for about five years, through high school and now college. They are considering marriage. They have exchanged gifts for birthdays and holidays, but Todd's participation has always been reluctant.

Recently, Sybil treated Todd to dinner at an expensive restaurant and gave him a gift for his 21st birthday. She was happy to do it, and he seemed very appreciative. When her birthday came, she received only a card and a phone call from Todd, even though they live in the same town. She was hurt, and it strained their relationship. Todd's excuse was that gifts are "materialistic." Sybil and I believe that a gift of any size would have been a thoughtful remembrance.

Abby, I am concerned that this could become a habit. I have known women who have been lucky to get even a nod from their significant others on their special days and, as a result, I have seen sorrow every year when their days roll around. Why should they have to grin and bear it, or nag their partners? Will you please share how this matter can be tactfully handled? -- A MOM IN WASHINGTON

DEAR MOM: If you are on comfortable terms with Todd, try a candid, confidential talk with him. Bear in mind that upbringing has everything to do with how one views gift-giving. Todd's family may have a different value system.

Explain how important a gesture of remembrance is in your family. If Todd is made out of the right stuff, he will adjust and acknowledge Sybil's special days. If not, she will have to decide if Todd is the man for her.

DEAR ABBY: My letter is in response to "Grace in Tampa, Fla.," who was worried about her daughter and her daughter's friend chatting with a boy on the Internet.

The parents have every cause to be worried and should get the girls off the Internet, but perhaps they shouldn't go to the extreme of saying she cannot even WRITE to the boy. Why don't they check him out, verify who lives at the address, and speak with him to see what he is like?

If things check out OK, they should read the letters he has already written to make sure the correspondence is appropriate, and if it is, let the teen keep in touch with him by letter.

As for the girls being home alone every afternoon, those parents should get them busy! As someone who chats online on occasion, I know that most people who are chatting have no life, and chatting is their only entertainment. Teens should have more to do than chat online. Get them into a Big Sister program, volunteer groups, Girl Scouts, sports -- something to help them build skills and develop their sense of self. Once they are active and have plenty of outside activities, the Internet will lose its allure. -- LAURIE IN PORTLAND, ORE.

DEAR LAURIE: Your answer is better than mine, and I thank you for it. Since this topic has received so much publicity recently, may I add: A computer can be a powerful tool for learning, as well as a rich resource of entertainment. However, it is not, and never was intended to be, a baby sitter.

I agree with you that a computer is no substitute for activities where young people mingle, interact, and learn social skills as well as how they, as individuals, can contribute to their communities.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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