The parental notification thing looks pretty good on paper, but as soon as you try to apply it to people and situations you actually know, it falls apart. At least it does for me.

I'm speaking, of course, of the recently promulgated regulation requiring that federally funded agencies notify parents when they provide contraceptive drugs or devices to minors.

I can see what the fashioners of this rule had in mind. I don't like the idea of some agency, federally funded or not, interposing itself and its amorality between me and my daughter, especially on so explosive an issue as sex. If my daughter has a problem in this area, I want to know about it so we can work it out.

That, as I read it, is the point of the regulation. It will force daughters to talk to their parents before embarking on sex, and that will give the parents at least a fair shot at talking them out of it.

On paper. In real life, I find it impossible to imagine its working out that way. The whole thing seems to be based on a false alternative: your teen-ager is seriously thinking about having sex with her boyfriend, but is smart enough to understand the risks of pregnancy. Therefore she will (a) avail herself of some form of contraception (which, under the new regulation, means that you will be notified so that you and she can have a good old heart-to-heart) or (b) she will balk at the notification requirement and decide that sex wasn't such a good idea after all.

What is far more likely, I suspect, is that if she was already planning to become sexually active, she will either use some means of contraception or, if that means she has to let you in on it, take her chances without contraception, relying instead on advice from naive friends.

The regulation, which will go into effect on Feb. 25 unless one of several suits already filed results in an injunction against it, is calculated to ensure parents' right to know about the sexual plans/and or activity of their teen-age daughters. Its framers don't understand that a lot of parents--including perhaps a majority of fathers--really don't want to know.

What would we do with the information? Forbid our children to indulge in sex? But we do that already, either directly or by telling them that it's their choice while shaping our advice in such a way that there's only one choice left. Threaten to break their arms, throw them out of the house or murder their boyfriends? That is hardly the sort of parental discussion the regulation anticipates. If we are prepared to deal intelligently with the information, the chances are we've already had our little sex talk.

Which is hard enough, even where parent-daughter relationships are good. We are stuck with trying to communicate two contradictory messages: don't do it because it's premature, dangerous, stupid or immoral; but if you do, make certain that you use a contraceptive. It's like saying to your son: don't shoplift; it's illegal, immoral and extremely dangerous. But if you do, here's how to avoid getting caught.

Incidentally, it isn't sexism that leads me to talk in terms of sexually active daughters rather than sons. The proposed regulation refers to "prescription drugs or prescription devices," and that means girls, not boys.

I've tried to think the thing through, and I simply cannot come up with any scenario in which the regulation is likely to do more good than harm.

Oh, well. At least there's this: if the new rule keeps your daughter from getting the contraceptive devices she wants and she winds up pregnant, she can always have an abortion. The Supreme Court has already ruled that she doesn't need your consent for that.