Join the debate. Vote Now on the Dear Abby Poll of the week.

by Abigail Van Buren

Teen's Feelings of Depression May Be Legacy From Mother

DEAR ABBY: I was in the parking lot of a shopping center when I noticed an older woman two cars away yelling and hitting a little girl. The girl looked about 6 or 7.

I got into my car, pulled up next to them and called out, "Are you OK?" The little girl was crying and trying to straighten her scarf; the woman snapped back, "Yes, she's OK!"

This kind of behavior really bothers me. I frequently see adults slap, hit, pinch and berate their children -- even babies in strollers. These adults seem to be out of control, and everybody ignores them or looks away.

Sometimes I stare at the parent or walk slowly by to let them know that I know what they're doing. One time, I reported a mother who kept slapping and scolding her Down syndrome daughter. The girl was doing nothing wrong and kept repeating, "I'm your FRIEND." It turns out slapping is legal in Virginia where I live. And by the way, I live in one of the wealthiest counties in the nation.

What can I do to help some of these kids? Any suggestions would be appreciated. -- SAD AND DISGUSTED IN VIRGINIA

DEAR SAD AND DISGUSTED: I checked with several state agencies and found out that although slapping may be legal in Virginia, the state policy is "open to interpretation." The Virginia Department of Social Services operates a 24-hour statewide, child-abuse-reporting hot line. If a report is deemed valid, a local agency will conduct an investigation. The in-state number is (800) 552-7096; from out of state, the number is (804) 786-8536.