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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am 17 years old, and like any other teen-ager I like to laugh, play, study, party and be carefree. There is one part of my life, however, that makes me very different from other girls my age. I became a mother at age 16. I made a bad decision to have sex too young, without thinking of the consequences.

Tonight as I write this, I am missing the party of the year because I can't afford a baby sitter, not to mention a new dress. I am also a year behind in school and on home studies. I thought my boyfriend loved me, but my baby boy is almost 2, and I haven't seen his father since I told him I was pregnant.

I own two pairs of pants and three shirts, and my shoes are off the bargain table at the discount store because the baby's needs are expensive and constant. For those of you who think having a baby will turn you into a "free" adult, it won't. Here's what you get to do:

1. Wake up for a 2 a.m. feeding. (For months, I didn't have more than five hours sleep a night.)

2. Wake out of a sound sleep to care for a sick or frightened baby when you can't even think straight yourself.

3. Lug a diaper bag, baby stroller and irritable baby everywhere you go.

4. Never have a penny to spend on cute new clothes or makeup.

5. Lose your friends and disappoint your family.

I am begging all teen-agers to think twice before having sex. See the world first. Go to college. Above all, enjoy your teen years. The opposite sex will always be there, but you can be a teen-ager only once. -- TEEN MOM WITH A MESSAGE

DEAR TEEN MOM: You present a powerful case from a perspective only a teen-age mother could have. I hope your letter reaches other young people who need to hear it like it really is. Bless you for writing.

DEAR ABBY: My wife, "Stella," and I have just returned to the United States after having lived abroad for 15 years. She and I come from very different backgrounds. I have only one living relative. Stella, on the other hand, comes from a large extended family of brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, assorted cousins and grandparents. Family gatherings, especially around the holidays, are large, festive and noisy.

Here is my dilemma: I am asthmatic and allergic to cigarette smoke in any form, even on people's clothing. Needless to say, I try to avoid it as much as possible and don't go out to eat very often, unless there is no smoking at all in the establishment. Neither Stella nor I smoke, nor do our sons. However, Stella's sister and her husband (as well as other family members) are heavy smokers. Her sister's daughter is also slightly asthmatic and has other respiratory problems. While I, as an adult, can avoid this smoke, the child can't.

My closest friends and associates know about my health concerns and are very considerate of me, and the ones who smoke refrain from doing so in my presence. The few times that we have visited my sister-in-law, everyone smokes around me. Stella has mentioned my condition to her family many times, yet no one seems to care or understand how this affects my health.

Now I am faced with two choices -- avoiding these people and creating tension among my wife's family, or jeopardizing my health. Recently, Stella's family has been asking her why we have been avoiding them. How can we best handle this without hurting feelings and alienating family members? -- SMOKE GETS IN MY EYES (AND LUNGS)

DEAR SMOKE: Why not tell them the truth?

For everything you need to know about wedding planning, order "How to Have a Lovely Wedding." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby, Wedding Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, Ill. 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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