Dear Abby:

I am a 15-year-old girl who baby-sits for extra money. I baby-sat for a new family last week. After I put the kids to bed, I found a snake in the house. I was scared for the kids, so I grabbed a kitchen knife and chopped off the snake's head.

When the parents returned, I found out it was their pet snake that had escaped from its cage, and they were really angry. I feel terrible about it. Although I apologized, they won't talk to me when they see me in the neighborhood.

Should I write them a letter of apology or buy them a new snake? I don't know what the proper etiquette is when you kill someone's pet.

Rattled in Texas

You reacted to what you perceived as a danger. What is unfortunate is that the couple for whom you were baby-sitting were so careless they not only failed to tell you they had an exotic pet in the house, but also compounded it by leaving without making sure the creature was securely in its cage where it belonged. You do not "owe" the family a replacement. They owe you an apology.

Dear Abby:

I was sexually harassed at the age of 7. I wasn't raped; I was just touched and used by my brother's friend.

I am now 13 and I'm very fond of one boy in particular. But ever since I was 7, I can't open up to guys. When I try, I get scared because I remember what happened to me.

I never told my parents what happened, because I never felt like I needed to. But now I'm getting older and I realize how wrong it was -- of him, I mean. I was so young I didn't understand what was happening.

I want some help, but I don't know where to go, so I've turned to you. Please help me, Abby.

Scarred 4 Life

Please clip this letter, give it to your mother and tell her you wrote it. You were not harassed; you were MOLESTED. It is important that you talk about what happened with a professional, possibly one who specializes in post-traumatic stress, who can help you work it through. The sooner you start, the sooner you can begin to build healthy relationships with peers. I wish you the best of luck.

P.S. I regret that you didn't report the molestation to your parents when it occurred. Had you done so, you could have received help then, and guaranteed that the boy could not abuse another child.

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)2004, Universal Press Syndicate