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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I read with interest the letter from "Worried Preteens in California," who were concerned about a friend who was shoplifting.

I have been a thief my entire life. I've stolen from my family, the families of my friends, and employers, stores and strangers.

I don't know exactly why I steal -- I just do. Sometimes it's for vengeance; other times, it's for the challenge. I steal things I don't need or even want. The items usually have little or no value, and once I've gotten away with it, I wonder why I bothered.

I steal when I feel bad about myself. When life is going good, I don't even think about doing it.

"Worried" is smart not to want to be around "Joe" when he goes to the store. If he is there when Joe gets caught, he will land in jail with his pal.

Going to Joe's parents will only cause Joe to feel resentful and betrayed. "Worried" needs to tell Joe about the concerns he and his friends have -- and let Joe know that his behavior is unacceptable.

Joe also needs to know he's jeopardizing the friendship when he puts his friends in a situation that could have a lifetime of legal and career implications. If Joe doesn't change his ways, "Worried" must end the friendship. -- BEEN THERE IN PHOENIX

DEAR BEEN THERE: Thank you for sharing your personal experience, and I hope you have been the beneficiary of your own advice -- and that you sought professional help. I agree that the boys must speak up. Silence indicates approval.

DEAR ABBY: I have a friend, "Elaine," whom I've known since we were 12. Over the years, we've stayed close and now enjoy successful lives with busy careers and marriages.

My problem: Elaine doesn't like to shop. Whenever she has a business or pleasure trip on the horizon -- or special occasion to attend (a wedding, party, business meeting) -- she comes over and picks out clothes, shoes, jewelry and luggage from MY closet.

When we were in our 20s and single, I didn't mind. Now, however, we're in our mid-50s, and Elaine's routine closet raids have become a huge annoyance.

I have told Elaine that some of the things she wants to borrow are gifts or to be worn only on special occasions. I don't want to risk losing or having them damaged. For her birthday, I've given her items similar to what she's borrowed from me -- but there's no stopping her.

I feel like I'm being taken advantage of. Abby, how do I put an end to her annoying habit without ruining an otherwise wonderful friendship? -- RELUCTANT LENDER, AUSTIN, TEXAS

DEAR RELUCTANT: It's not surprising you feel used, because you have been for the last 40 years. It's hard to assert yourself after having been passive for so long. However, until you summon the courage to tell your friend the truth, you might just as well hang a Macy's sign over your closet door. Have a truth session with Elaine before the week's out.

DEAR ABBY: I love the stories about "pennies from heaven."

My husband of 46 years used to pick up pennies and any other loose change he spotted on the ground. It embarrassed me, until I discovered he was putting the change in a jar. When the jar was full, he would take it to the priest at our church to add to the poor box. He still continues this commendable habit. He has filled jar after jar over the years. -- NO LONGER EMBARRASSED, PLYMOUTH MEETING, PA.

DEAR N.L.E.: There is something fitting about pennies from heaven going to a charitable cause. I like your husband's style.

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-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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