Speaking of courts and judges: Wednesday's column made reference to a Prince George's County Juvenile Court judge who ordered parents to pay for $12,000 of the damage their young sons caused in a school fire. Through no fault of mine (is it my fault that I'm stupid?), I attributed the order to the wrong judge. It was issued by Judge Robert H. Mason. I apologize.

Articles in Money magazine, like those in Kiplinger's Changing Times, are designed to help the average American family manage its financial affairs intelligently.

In the April issue of Money, there is a letter-to-the-editor from Mary Bell, a Wisconsin housewife, who writes:

"I am 34, college educated and the mother of four. My three older children are in school and a friend would be delighted to baby-sit for my 3-year old child full time.

"A job opportunity recently became available for which I am qualified. The salary range is $16,000 to $22,000.

"But even if my salary were $19,000, there is no incentive for businesswomen whose husbands are well paid (mine makes around $40,000).

"After deducting about 46 percent of my salary for federal tax, 6 percent for FICA, 11 percent for state tax, $10 a week for transportation, $40 a week for child care and $250 extra each year for clothing, it would cost me too much. I do not care to work 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year, and have only about $4,000 to spend out of my earnings.

"I am sure I am not the only woman who wants to work but because of confiscatory taxes will not work. I had hoped to do more with my life than bake chocolate chip cookies."

Mrs. Bell doesn't mention lunch money,or the tendency of people who work hard to spend more-and I can think of no group that works harder than women who hold full-time jobs in addition to the unpaid work they do for their families.

The feeling is, "I know it's expensive to eat out, but what the hell-we earn $59,000 a year. Do you mean to say we can't afford a good steak in a first class restaurant whenever mama wants a night off?"

Unfortunately, for many families that is a true statement. They can't afford to dine in style because $40,000 plus $19,000 does not add up to $59,000 worth of spendable income.

Some married women want to work in spite of the new math that reduces their real take-home pay; some aren't particularly keen about their dual jobs but continue their paid work because they need the extra income, however little it is; but some are beginning to balk at working like mules and having so little to show for it.

Meanwhile, in thousands of homes with working mothers, paid surrogates are raising the children, or the children are being left to shift for themselves.

Given that kind of choice, a mother might well wonder, "What's so terrible about baking chocolate chip cookies?"

POSTSCRIPT

Last December, the Matthew Henson Elementary School in Landover sustained $125,000 worth of damage in a fire, and two firefighters were injured in bringing the blaze under control.

Four boys, two of them 12 years old and two 13, were found guilty of setting that fire. Yesterday's Washington Post reported that Juvenile Court Judge Vincent J. Femia ordered the parents of those four boys to pay for $12,000 for the damage

The news story gives us no information about how much of how little supervision these boys have had from their parents, and we must be careful not to make any assumptions about that.

However, this much does seem clear: We live in an era in which children are exposed to all sorts of wild ideas. Fiction they encounter on TV or in movies is only slightly more bizarre than the facts related in daily news reports. Aberrant conduct is all around us, and it is in the nature of children to experiment with new concepts. Parents must do what they can to teach their children to distinguish right from wrong, good from bad, prudence from imprudence.

Even the most diligent of parental supervision offers no guarantee that children will not get into trouble. However, it is reasonable to assume that children whose mothers and fathers provide close supervision will get into less mischief than children whose conduct is less closely monitored.

Some parents are bored with child-rearing and some "don't feel fulfilled" by such activity. That's sad. Once parents have brought children into the world, they have an obligation to provide for the needs of those children-and one basic need is for attention.

THESE MODERN TIMES

Mack McGinnis heard one woman say to another: "I know styles have changed, but I can't stand going out with a man whose hair looks nicer than mine."