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

DEAR ABBY: My son is 11 and, for the first time, he has a "girlfriend." I have always discouraged the children from saying they have girlfriends and boyfriends, so he has always referred to her as his "friend." Well, the other night, I heard him say, "I love you," and there were text messages on his phone from her saying it, too.

I tried to talk to him about it and explain that this is not appropriate because he's too young to really understand what love is, and he should not say it until he is older and knows what love is. He didn't respond very well and was embarrassed. I don't think I was very effective. Do you have any recommendations on how to handle this? -- SHANNON IN HOUSTON

DEAR SHANNON: I certainly do. And the first is to stop minimizing your son's feelings because you know better what he is feeling. His emotions are his own, and the more you insist they are not valid, the higher the barrier will be that you build between you. How much better it would have been had you listened to what he had to say and simply commented that along with love go responsibilities that he will come to understand as he grows older -- and that he can always tell you anything.

DEAR ABBY: I have been married to "Carl" for six years. We have two children together. My parents hate him because, years ago, he served time in prison, and his family has very little money. They feel Carl is "beneath" me, and I can "do better."

Abby, my parents won't even see their own grandchildren unless I leave Carl at home, which isn't fair to him. He has turned his life around, earns good money at his job, and is a devoted husband and father.

How can I convince my parents to see him for who he is now, and not ostracize him for the mistake he made in the past? -- CARL'S WIFE IN PENNSYLVANIA

DEAR CARL'S WIFE: By taking your children to see your parents and allowing them to exclude your husband, you are helping them to isolate and belittle him. The quickest way to get your parents to recognize that their behavior is unacceptable is to stop aiding and abetting it. Begin by refusing to visit unless your husband -- and the father of those grandchildren -- is welcomed.

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I enjoy playing golf. I am in sales, so I have the opportunity to invite clients to play golf. When I include my husband in these events, it can become very uncomfortable. If his round is not going well, he becomes upset, curses loudly and slams his club to the ground. It is extremely embarrassing to me, and I'm sure it makes my clients uncomfortable.

I'm hesitant to say anything to my husband about his behavior because I have to imagine that he isn't happy with himself when he acts that way, either. I'm considering not including him in future rounds that involve clients, but don't really like that alternative. What would you suggest? -- TEED OFF IN HOUSTON

DEAR TEED OFF: May I be frank? Business is business. Your husband's childish, unsportsmanlike behavior could have a negative effect on your ability to make a sale. Tell your husband that when he behaves that way in front of clients, it reflects badly on the both of you, and if it happens again you will have to exclude him from your business-related golf games. Then "follow through."

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $6 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby, Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600

More like Dear Abby