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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am almost 19 years old. I live at home with my parents while going to school full-time, working part-time and helping my mother baby-sit two little boys four days a week. I also help around the house whenever I'm asked. I have never given my mother any reason not to trust me. I'm a very responsible young adult.

My problem is my curfew. My mother feels I should be home every night by 1 a.m., and I feel I am mature enough to decide what time to come home. I have a cell phone and a pager, so I can be reached at any time. I don't get off work until after 10 p.m., and one night a week I would like to stay out late with my friends. It's hard to visit and socialize when I have so little time. -- NIGHT OWL IN NASHVILLE, TENN.

DEAR NIGHT OWL: Your request for an extension of your curfew one night a week sounds reasonable to me. However, in your parents' home they are entitled to make the rules, and as long as you live under their roof, you must abide by their decisions. If your mother is unwilling to relax her restrictions, consider moving out and sharing an apartment with some of your friends. That way you can make your own rules.

DEAR ABBY: You recently printed a list of signs of teen-age drug abuse. Although the list is valuable for parents, you should know that a majority of those signs could also be signs of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.

Out of the 11 warning signs, I exhibited nine as a teen-ager, and I wasn't using drugs. I had been twice molested as a child by two neighbor boys. My family didn't talk about it because a psychiatrist told my parents not to bring it up. During my teens, I struggled with my sexuality and insecurities brought on by the abuse. I was embarrassed and felt dirty. I was in terrible emotional pain and had no one to talk to. My parents knew I was depressed but didn't know how to approach me. They accused me of having an "attitude" problem. I was desperate for help, but had no way of asking.

I was able to get past being a teen-ager, but I was angry at my parents for not recognizing I needed help. I came from a close family with parents who cared very much for me. There were many good times, but I had a deep sadness that never fully went away. It affected my entire family.

I would urge parents to stop and consider: Could your child be acting out for other reasons than drugs? Could your child be crying out for help? When approaching your child, be careful not to accuse. Be understanding. Ask questions.

If your child refuses to talk to you about personal things, consider seeking professional help. This help is as much for you as it is for your child. Generally, if a child is acting out or using drugs, it's a family problem. Even the best families can have a breakdown of communications. There's no such thing as a "perfect" teen-ager or a "perfect" parent. It's OK to ask for help. -- BEEN THERE IN PORTLAND

DEAR BEEN THERE: I agree that if a child is "acting out" or using drugs, it's a family problem. And the logical place to start to resolve it is by alerting the family physician that something is wrong, and seeking an appropriate referral -- whether it's for substance abuse intervention, emotional or behavior problems, or family therapy.

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