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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I'm writing regarding the letter from "Totally in Love" about his relationship with a 13-year-old girl. You advised him that if "things went too far," he could find himself in legal trouble. That's an understatement.

I am a probation officer. Last Friday, I sat in court while a client of mine was sentenced to three years (the low end of the guidelines) for having consensual sex with a 13-year-old. The girl had told him she was 15 and said so in court. Once released from the penitentiary, he will have to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

That 18-year-old needs to watch himself. He also needs to ask himself why he can't date girls his own age. Here in Virginia, if an 18-year-old has sex with a 13-year-old, he's a sex offender -- whether or not the girl was willing. -- CONCERNED IN MANASSAS

DEAR CONCERNED: I hope "Totally in Love" sees your letter. Its message is sobering. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: Your advice to "Totally in Love" was great, but you left something out. I'm 19, and don't profess to know everything, but someone needs to explain to him about how 13-year-olds think. At that age, none of us had any idea what love was. Puberty struck most of us full-force and our hormones were going nuts -- way too early to make lifelong commitments, especially to an 18-year-old guy.

The girl's mind is going to change so much as she grows up and finds out who she is and what she wants. She may not like him anymore when she gets a little older, and if she says it won't change, she's lying to herself and to him.

Abby, that guy needs not only to come clean about his age to her mother, but also not dream too far ahead in the future. He should wait until she grows up before lifelong commitments come into the picture. -- A WOMAN WHO REMEMBERS THAT AGE

DEAR REMEMBERS: It's unfortunate that 13-year-old girl doesn't have a sister like you. You have given sage advice.

DEAR ABBY: While I agree with your advice to "Totally in Love," I feel there is a bit more to say. From personal experience, I have found that if young people (such as his 13-year-old girlfriend) have an "exclusive" relationship, what happens is that she is excluded from the normal passages of youth. I cannot see how what people feel at 13 could possibly be what they want at 18, 21, etc.

And if the relationship does "go too far," then what? Two children with a child? That young girl may well regret and resent the exclusiveness of the relationship she had when she was young.

I hope the parents of BOTH these young people help them to see that it's better to allow each other time to grow up before they try to be grown-ups. If they're truly meant to be together, no amount of time will change their feelings for each other, and eventually they'll be able to share life experiences they'll never have in the relationship they have now. I wish them the best. -- AN EXPERIENCED OLDER PERSON

DEAR EXPERIENCED: You have a wise and compassionate perspective. Several readers also pointed out that the age difference between this young man and the girl is so great that it is not a relationship of equals. Few girls that age can say no to someone that much older and more experienced.

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