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DEAR ABBY: My mother has eight grandchildren. Four are mine; four are my sister's. One, however, is her obvious favorite. She spares no expense when it comes to my sister's oldest son, "Johnny." She buys him extravagant gifts, praises him constantly, and hands him large sums of money in front of the other children -- often making a big deal out of presenting it to him.

Last Christmas, she insisted that all the children come and sit around Johnny as she presented him with a $100 bill. When we're out together in public, she will say to perfect strangers, in front of all the children, "I love all my grandchildren, but I have special feelings for Johnny. We have a special relationship that I don't have with the others." My children are hurt by her actions and comments.

When the children were younger, I could disguise her favoritism, but as my children have grown older, they are very aware of her feelings and actions. When my sister and I confronted Mother about it, she cried, said she wouldn't listen to such "hateful lies," then stormed from the room. Is there a way to help my mother see what she's doing to our family, or should I just protect my children from her abuse by staying away from her? -- PROTECTIVE MOM IN TEXAS

DEAR MOM: You and your sister should have formed a united front and put a stop to this years ago. As it stands, your mother has already alienated seven out of her eight grandchildren, and understandably so. If you're asking for my permission to protect your children from your mother's obsession with their cousin, you have it. And your sister should follow your example.

DEAR ABBY: I am the mother of two children ages 7 and 4. In a recent child development class, there was a discussion about sex education for small children. My professor mentioned that if children aren't asking questions about sex, we should initiate talks with our children. She also said that children should have the sex talk by 8 years old. Is this correct?

I can't imagine talking to my children about sex at such an early age. What's the best age to have the sex talk, and is there a limit on how much we should talk about? -- SYLVIA IN SAN DIEGO

DEAR SYLVIA: Much depends upon the level of maturity of the child, which can vary from individual to individual. Parents should certainly use correct terminology when talking about body parts. It's best to arm children with knowledge before their hormones kick in. I agree with your professor that by age 8 or 9, some discussion of puberty should be introduced. If you wait much longer, your children will hear "the facts" from their friends instead of from you, and too often, the information they receive from peers is incorrect.

DEAR ABBY: About a year ago, I found out that I am biologically unable to father a child. My wife and I looked into several options and chose to go with an anonymous donor.

How would you suggest I handle comments like, "That baby looks just like you," or "She has your eyes." Because our baby will be a girl, I was thinking of something like, "I hope not -- she'll never get a date looking like me." Any other suggestions? -- FATHER-TO-BE

DEAR FATHER-TO-BE: When someone comments that the baby resembles you, stick with the tried-and-true. Smile and say, "Thank you!" It's all that's required from any proud papa.

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 $6 (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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