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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I were dining out and heard a cell phone ring. A woman seated in the booth next to us took a phone out of her purse and proceeded to carry on a 20-minute conversation. By the time she hung up, we knew her name, address, phone number, the ages of her three daughters and that the girls were home alone.

As the couple prepared to leave, I approached her and said we had overheard her conversation -- and to please think of her children's safety when talking on her cell phone in public. Her reply? "We keep a rottweiler in our yard."

Her husband threw a business card down on our table, said, "Here's our address. Let's just see you around our house!" and stormed out. My husband then chewed me out for not minding my own business.

I was polite, not demeaning in any way. I simply pointed out that in this day and age, it's better to be careful when you talk in the presence of strangers.

Abby, don't people care about one another anymore? Was I out of line? The couple's reaction -- and my husband's -- really got to me. Thanks for letting me vent. -- GRANDMOTHER OF FIVE IN NORTH TEXAS

DEAR GRANDMOTHER: I believe people still care about one another. However, your good deed brought about some peculiar dynamics. Your comment embarrassed that naive woman because you made her realize that she had, indeed, put her children at risk. The husband saw his wife's embarrassment and jumped to her defense. Had that man been any more rude, your husband would have had to defend you -- and it could have caused a serious altercation. (That's why your husband chewed you out.)

Be comforted in the knowledge that I probably would have reacted exactly as you did. This would be a sad world, indeed, if nobody tried to help anybody.

DEAR ABBY: I am a health teacher in a middle school. Part of the curriculum calls for the students to learn about the dangers of substance abuse. I asked my 13-year-old students if their parents had talked with them about drugs. To my surprise, most of the students volunteered that their parents had not shared their views on drug abuse. They left that to the health teacher: Me!

I decided to tell my students this: "I will use short words and sentences that we all understand. Do not try drugs. Do not start them. If you think that no one cares about you, you are wrong. I care about you. I think about all of you every day and worry about your future. I will listen to you. I don't care what your hair looks like. I don't care if you have a pierced nose. I care about you as a person. Drugs will destroy your future. I, for one, want you to have a great one."

Abby, I wish parents understood that their children need to hear this message directly from them -- not from me. -- HEALTH TEACHER IN MASSACHUSETTS

DEAR HEALTH TEACHER: You're right. And if parents are at a loss for words, they should save your letter and read your heartfelt plea to their children. It's one of the most important messages they can convey, because silence implies indifference.

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 $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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