Dear Abby:

I had an eye-opening experience last Sunday. Our 13-year-old son has always seemed fairly happy and well-adjusted. As we were about to leave for church, I looked at him and I could feel that something was not right. His face had a desperate look. I asked him, "Are you okay?" and that was all it took. My boy began sobbing and told me he'd been crying every night for the past two weeks. I knew he'd had some trouble sleeping, but I thought it was just growing pains.

I immediately began asking all kinds of questions -- and listened carefully to everything he said. I told him we would get him help the next day. Just the fact that I believed him and was willing to take action seemed to lift some of the burden he's been carrying around.

His father and I and both of his grandparents have all had problems with depression. The doctor later told our son how fortunate he is to have parents who don't minimize their children's feelings.

Abby, I cannot impress enough to parents the importance of paying attention to their children's moods and body language.

In their own quiet way, kids try to tell you when something is wrong. Our sons and daughters are gifts to be cherished. If you sense something is wrong, KEEP ASKING!

Grateful Mother in Minnesota

Your son is also fortunate that because of your family history, you were sensitive to the signs of depression and recognized them for what they were. Depression also strikes people who have no family history.

Anyone, regardless of age, who experiences any five of the following nine symptoms for two weeks or more should seek help from a mental health professional: 1. feeling of sadness and/or irritability; 2. loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed; 3. changes in weight and appetite; 4. changes in sleep patterns; 5. feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless; 6. inability to concentrate, remember things or make decisions; 7. fatigue or loss of energy; 8. restlessness or decreased activity noticed by others; 9. thoughts of death or suicide.

Dear Abby:

My husband and I have been married for 18 years. One year ago, my mother-in-law informed me that her adult daughter (my sister-in-law) has a problem with me calling her parents Mom and Dad. Needless to say, my feelings were hurt, and for the past year I have felt very uncomfortable not knowing what to call them. I would feel strange calling them by their first names now.

I finally found the courage to ask my sister-in-law if she was really bothered. She said, "Yes. You have your own parents." I couldn't believe she felt this way, especially after all these years. We've always gotten along -- or so I thought. My questions are: Does my sister-in-law have issues? Should I continue to call them Mom and Dad?

Annoyed in the Northwest

Call your in-laws whatever you wish -- as long as it's okay with THEM. Your sister-in-law is jealous. This is her problem. Don't make it yours.

Dear Abby:

Please add this to your "acts of kindness" file.

I moved into a courtyard apartment three years ago. After settling in, I planted two containers of spring flowers and placed them outside my front door. They were colorful, and my neighbors commented how much they enjoyed them. Imagine my surprise and disappointment upon returning home one day to find one of the containers missing.

I was so upset that I placed a sign on the empty spot. It read: "In memory of my beautiful, lovingly tended container of flowers taken from this spot on May 22." Four days later, to my surprise and delight, in its place I found a new container of flowers. Next to it was a sign that read: "We wish we could find who took your flowers. Please enjoy these. From, A Kinder World." I tried for days to find out who left the container, but they never revealed themselves.

Abby, we should all be grateful to people who make our world a kinder place.

V. Ione Moody Murchison, Sacramento, Calif.

I see the flowers as a metaphor for optimism, and I'm pleased that yours was restored.

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, Calif. 90069.

(c)2002, Universal Press Syndicate