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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Please help! I caught my 11-year-old son sneaking in my bedroom going through my husband's drawers, and he found a Penthouse magazine. (The only one in our house, I might add.) My husband and I are both extremely upset over this, but don't know how to handle it. First, my son has lost our trust by going through our room when we weren't home, and second, he lied about it. Lastly, we are concerned that he was exposed to that kind of material. There was much more in that magazine than anyone should see.

I feel that our son has lost his innocence, and my husband and I are both distraught at the thought of it. How do you punish a child for this? I understand the curiosity -- his class is in the middle of "family life experiences" this week. My son is generally a good kid, other than the fact that when he does something wrong, he tends to lie his way through it.

Please help or advise any way you can. -- UPSET IN ALEXANDRIA, VA.

DEAR UPSET: It's important not to overreact. Your boy is becoming a man, and his curiosity is normal. Use this experience as an opportunity to open the lines of communication. If his father hasn't already had that "father-son" chat with him, Dad had better hurry, because it is overdue.

In a week or two, in a nonconfrontational manner, point out to your son that just as you respect his privacy, you expect him to respect yours. And that means not rummaging through your personal effects. In the future, keep items that are "private" in a locked cabinet or closet.

Lest you think you're the only parents with this problem, read on for one that arrived the same day as yours:

DEAR ABBY: I had a collection of Playboy magazines in a sealed box in our attic. One day while putting something in the attic, I noticed that the tape had been removed from the box and someone had gone through my magazines. I brought this to the attention of my wife. She recalled that my 8-year-old son had been in the attic recently.

I went upstairs to his bedroom and asked him if he had been in the attic and had removed the tape from a box that held some magazines. I told him that all I wanted was a truthful answer. I told him that when he answered, I would know if he was telling me the truth. He asked, "Dad, how can you tell?"

I replied, "After you answer, I'll ask you to stick out your tongue. If you're not truthful, your tongue will have spots on it." Then I asked him if he had removed the tape from the box in the attic. He replied, "No."

I said, "Stick out your tongue."

After he did, I said, "Uh-oh!"

He stood there looking up at me with his hands on his hips and said, "Dad, that was from the LAST time." -- B.W. IN HURON, OHIO

DEAR ABBY: Last year, my boyfriend's parents gave me a large, expensively matted and framed picture of him and me for my birthday. Our relationship ended several months ago, and I am debating whether it would be appropriate to return the picture. It has been sitting in the closet since we broke up.

Should I return the picture to his parents, or to my former boyfriend? -- OUT OF THE PICTURE IN INDIANA

DEAR OUT OF THE PICTURE: Write the parents a sweet note and ask them if they want the picture returned. If they don't, you can always use the frame if someone new enters the picture.

For an excellent guide to becoming a better conversationalist and a more attractive person, order "How to Be Popular." Send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $3.95 ($4.50 in Canada) to: Dear Abby Popularity Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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