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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am responding to your recent letters about the importance of teaching your children about sex.

When I was a child, my parents thought if they didn't allow me to do anything, I would never get into trouble. Sorry to say, I did things my parents would still "die over" if they ever found out.

My mother took me to get birth control when I was 14 after she discovered I was having sex and had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. That was the beginning and end of any discussion about sex with her. My father thought if he didn't allow me to talk to boys on the phone or to date, I'd never have the opportunity to have sex. He was wrong. Long before my first sexual encounter, I wish I had been told the importance of waiting.

I am now the mother of an 8-year-old daughter. I have talked to her since she was 5 or 6 years old about relationships and waiting until marriage to have sex. Many people feel this is too early, but when you see what children are exposed to on TV today, it's best for a parent -- not another child -- to clearly explain what they're seeing.

I pray that by talking openly with my daughter and letting her know I trust her, she will in turn trust and talk to me -- and never experience what I went through. -- BEEN THERE IN TENNESSEE

DEAR BEEN THERE: Your prayers stand an excellent chance of being answered. Frank and honest communication usually cements relationships. When young people do not have it at home, they turn to outside sources that are not always reliable. They want parents who trust them and who expect the best from them -- not fear the worst. (And even more important, they need parents who take the time to listen to what they have to say.)

I'm sorry your relationship with your parents was poor. However, I'm pleased that you were able to learn from your parents' mistakes and to pass those benefits along to your daughter.

DEAR ABBY: Holding back truth is lying. Dr. Kilgore wrote that he doesn't believe patients should be told they are dying. The good doctor is a general surgeon, not a psychiatrist. Doctors are highly trained "mechanics" paid to correct physical problems and to keep patients informed at all times.

There have been horror stories about terminally ill patients who didn't have the chance to close out businesses or get their financial affairs in order because some physician failed to disclose the truth about the patient's chances of survival. The result was that the estates the patients had worked long and hard to build dwindled away from lack of attention.

Personally, I would be very annoyed if a doctor to whom I was paying good money didn't tell me the complete truth about my condition. A few malpractice cases given widespread publicity might go a long way to convince physicians not to play God. -- TELL ME THE TRUTH

DEAR TELL ME: I agree.

DEAR ABBY: My hair is bright red. I don't dye it. People frequently ask me if it is natural, and I tell them it is. Many times they refuse to believe me, and argue or ask my family or friends if I am lying.

I think these questions are invasive and unnecessary. Do you think it is acceptable to ask someone if her hair color is natural? -- CARROT TOP

DEAR CARROT TOP: If the color is unusual, it may be intended as a left-handed compliment. However, when the reply is affirmative, to insist that it is not is abrasive and insulting.

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

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