Dear Beth: I realize it is necessary to caution adolescents about premarital sex and the perils of AIDS and pregnancy, but positive reinforcement for responsible sex is also necessary. Must all sexually active teens be chided for their activity even when it's appropriate and safe?
Young adults who are in love, who wait before having intercourse, deciding to do so without pressuring each other, and who use safe sex methods are to be congratulated, not censured.
Dear B.N.: In addition to the moral questions, there is much disagreement about the effects of early sexual involvement. Many professionals feel that if no pregnancy or infection results, intercourse does not result in serious harm, at least to older teen-agers.
I agree with you that young adults should be commended when they take intelligent and mature responsibility for their behavior. However, I don't call 13-, 14- or 15-year-olds "young adults," nor the many older teens who are still immature and irresponsible. The risks are too high for these young people to condone sexual experimentation, even when they believe they're in love.
Dear Beth: It's not good to go out with older guys. When I was 16, I went out with a 32-year-old man who was married and had two children. After we had sex, he dumped me.
Now I'm 18 and recently got involved with my boyfriend, who's 19. The same thing happened. I still love him a lot, but I feel like I'm a slut. I got used and hurt--twice!
Confused and Hurt in N.Y.
Dear Confused: Older guys make it more difficult to say no to sex because they're usually more experienced, which puts pressure on you to keep up with them. But as you found out, even if someone is close to your age, having sex to "keep" him is not a good reason. A good question to ask yourself when someone wants to have intercourse with you is, "If I do, and he breaks off with me, will I still be glad I did?"
Talk with an older person who can help you figure out how to slow down and stop choosing relationships that leave you feeling so bad about yourself.
Dear Beth: My father's been gone for eight years and I really miss him. There's this teacher who's the most caring, compassionate person. I really want to let him know he's my ideal father figure, but I'm afraid of rejection. Should I?
In Need of Father
Dear In Need: You're wise to sense that your need may be a greater one than he can fulfill. His role as a teacher is to support his students in learning and help them move up to another level. You need an adult who can be there for you throughout your growing up. He probably can't.
You'll be less afraid of rejection if you can find a way to tell him how much he means to you without asking him to be more than your teacher. For example, say that the absence of a father has made you appreciate his support even more.
Don't bottle up your feelings but find other people to talk to about how much you miss your father. Many people who have lost a parent discover several people in their lives who fill the gap in different ways, like teachers, coaches, uncles, etc. Also try Big Brother for a male role model.
Dear Beth: I'm 19. My mom and her boyfriend go around spreading rumors about me. Sometimes I go out with friends and hear next day that they told people I was drinking with some man when I wasn't.
How can I make them stop? I know my mom wasn't popular and was known as a slut when she was a teen. I don't want people to think I'm like this too. Is it OK for them to do this to me?
Don't Know What to Think
Dear Don't Know: It's never OK to spread rumors. What's worse is that she isn't being a mother--she's competing with you and behaving like a jealous classmate.
Unfortunately, the more you pull away from her, the angrier she'll get. If she senses you don't want to be associated with her, her antics will increase. Change this pattern by finding ways to be close to her when you like the way she's acting. If she behaves badly again, separate from her so it won't affect you so much.
Find adults who do respect you and can give you support. If you don't have close neighbors or relatives or teachers, speak to the school counselor or nurse.
Dear Beth: What is your opinion about teen-age alcoholism? My friends don't drink. Is it really as bad as they say?
Dear Angela: Yes, 100,000 elementary school children get drunk at least once a week. One in 20 high school students use alcohol daily. One in 10 12- to 17-year-olds drink regularly. Many kids drink to get drunk, not just get mellow. Many are doomed to serious alcohol abuse.
Elizabeth Winship, a mother of four who graduated with honors in psychology from Radcliffe, has written about young people's concerns for more than two decades. If your question can be answered in this column, write to "Ask Beth," The Times, P.O. Box 2000, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.