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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have questions about "growing up." I am 15 and want to talk to my mom about it, but I'm embarrassed. We talk about some stuff, but most of the time I wait until I can't stand it anymore and finally talk to her.

Do you have any ideas about making it easier for me to open up to my mom? I want to just walk through the front door and say, "Hey, Mom, I've got a question" -- but I can't. I'm too shy.

Abby, please help! -- TOO SHY IN A SMALL TOWN

DEAR TOO SHY: I'm sad to say your question is very common. It is repeated in nearly every batch of mail I receive. Teenage girls want to talk to their mothers, but they are afraid to reach out.

What I recommend are scheduled mother-daughter dinners, one-on-one time where there are no distractions, and feelings can be discussed, questions answered and opinions and attitudes aired and explained. This quality time can be the basis of precious memories and the foundation for trust and closeness. If this seems far-fetched, consider how many thousands of young girls have such distant relationships with their mothers that the only person they feel they can confide in is an advice columnist. Mothers, please reach out to your daughters. You'll be glad you did.

DEAR ABBY: My children attend a local elementary school here in Dallas. They are in kindergarten and second grade.

Other parents have told me about a practice that occurs in third grade at our school. If a child's desk is not properly organized (to the teacher's specifications), the teacher does a "desk dump" in front of the class and orders the child to put the items back using the "proper organization."

I don't think public humiliation is an appropriate teaching technique. And I seriously doubt that the children learn anything more than fear of their teacher.

Fortunately, the school district does not allow corporal punishment; however, this kind of emotional abuse can be almost as destructive as physical abuse for children this young.

What do you think of this "teaching technique"? -- WORRIED PARENT IN TEXAS

DEAR WORRIED: I think it is unacceptable, outmoded and should be scrapped. Instead of teaching children, it demeans them and causes resentment.

Since you feel strongly about it, visit the principal and confirm that the stories are true. If they are, ask that the teacher be instructed about what is appropriate and effective and what is not. If the teacher persists, you and other concerned parents should take this matter up with the school board.

DEAR ABBY: I am 7 years old. I live with my mother and father in a small apartment. I have two fish, two cats, a hamster and a mouse -- but I would also like a dog. My mother says our apartment is too small. My dad says to ask you because I practice reading through your column. Plus, I told my dad that I would ask your advice. Thank you. -- AMBER IN CHICAGO

DEAR AMBER: At the risk of getting myself in the doghouse, I vote with your mother. Two fish, two cats, a hamster and a mouse are already quite a sizable menagerie for a family of three living in a small apartment. Enough is enough.

I'm pleased that you read my column -- it's never too early to start.

Abby shares more than 100 of her favorite recipes in two booklets: "Abby's Favorite Recipes" and "More Favorite Recipes by Dear Abby." Send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $10 (U.S. funds)

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