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

by Abigail Van Buren

Balloon Artist's Fees Require Some Inflating

DEAR ABBY: I am a balloon artist, earning my way through college. I entertain children, families, individuals and couples by creating characters in all shapes and sizes. My services are requested in restaurants, at parties and special events, most often without contracted compensation.

Since balloon artistry is not a common occupation, many people do not realize I depend on tips for my income and to cover the cost of supplies. (Some characters require several balloons to make.) Moreover, those that do tip are not quite certain how much is customary. I would like to suggest the following guideline: $1 per balloon used in the character.

It is heartwarming to watch small children enjoying a balloon made especially for them. I wish I could afford to make them free for everyone. -- ENTERTAINER FOR A LIVING

DEAR ENTERTAINER: This is the first I've heard of balloon artists having to make their living on tips, and I'm sure it will be to many of my readers.

Since your college education depends on running a small business, you must guarantee that you at least break even. Do that by informing potential clients that you charge a minimum amount per day or evening. (After that, what you earn in tips can be called a "balloon payment.") Alternatively, you can post a sign listing the price of your creations, at $1 per balloon.

DEAR ABBY: The letter from "Mother on the Defensive," who resented her friends disciplining her children, really got my attention. You're going to get lots of mail on that one!

Haven't you seen people who have tunnel vision when it comes to their children's behavior? If you have, apparently you haven't been cooped up with them on vacation.

I never permitted any child to do things in my home that my own children were not allowed to do. If their parents ignored the misbehavior, then I spoke up and told their children to stop running, screaming or whatever. -- VOICE OF REASON IN CALIFORNIA

DEAR VOICE: You're right; I received a barrage of letters from readers who thought I was too easy on the mother. Many of them related stories about visiting children who walked on white couches and porch railings, had tantrums if fragile knickknacks were placed out of their reach, and one who fell off a diving board and broke his arm after having been told to stay away from it. The common denominator in all of them was parents who tolerated the behavior while completely ignoring their function as responsible adults.

"Mother on the Defensive" stated that her children had been "humiliated" by her friends, and were "hesitant to do anything around them for fear of being disciplined." I interpreted that to mean the discipline was excessive, and advised the mother to make it plain to their friends that should the children need discipline, she and her husband would administer it.

However, if no one is supervising the children and stepping in when things get out of hand, someone should. And if the parents fail to assert themselves, another adult must.

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-size, 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, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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