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

by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I have chosen to celebrate my children's birthdays with family and one friend. I want my children to understand early on that birthdays are not about getting loads of gifts, but to celebrate life with family. We are invited to many parties for their friends and classmates, but I have always chosen to attend only those of our close friends.

I find it disheartening to watch children these days rip into a bunch of gifts and toss them aside without saying thank you or even commenting on the gift. It's all about the next package and the volume.

Because of this, I'm considering no longer giving a gift but making a donation to a charity in honor of the birthday boy or girl instead. But I'm worried about the reaction I'll get from friends. On the other hand, I feel much better about donating to a worthwhile charity instead of another toy for children who already have so much these days. Is a donation appropriate instead of a gift? -- WONDERING IN BIRMINGHAM

DEAR WONDERING: Your sentiments are noble, but your teaching method is heavy-handed and I don't recommend it. If the children are in grammar school, a donation in their name to a charity will go over like a lead balloon.

Teach your children proper manners by explaining how to practice them and setting a good example. By preventing them from interacting socially with their friends and classmates, you are slowing down their socialization and isolating them.

Because you prefer that your children not receive "loads of gifts," when you plan their birthday celebrations, explain your philosophy to your family and your one friend and also to your children. Then let your kids choose a charity and request that attendees bring an item to be donated. That way all the children can enjoy themselves and learn the satisfaction that comes from helping others at the same time.

DEAR ABBY: My mother -- who is 50 -- divorced her husband about a year ago. I fully supported her through the divorce, but now I am beginning to regret it. I feel as if I have been taking the place of my father when, at 22, I should be finding my way and exploring the world.

I hate myself for feeling this way because I love my mother. I want her to be happy, but she does not try to meet new people or make friends. I find myself staying at home so she won't be alone, and I know I'm missing out. Should I talk to my mother about this? -- DAUGHTER IN NEW YORK

DEAR DAUGHTER: Yes. Do it now, before resentment builds and you reach the point where you say something you'll regret. Do it when you are both in a relaxed mood and won't be interrupted.

Explain that you are worried about her and because she is now a free woman it's time for her to develop new interests and meet new people. Encourage her to get out, be active, join social or charitable groups, take classes -- ANYTHING but sit at home alone.

And stop making yourself so available for mother-sitting. You are young and you have a right to a life. You'll be doing both you and your mom a favor if you stop allowing her to be so emotionally dependent upon you.

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.)