DEAR ABBY: My 14-year-old stepdaughter, "Nicki," is sweet, sensitive, shy and artistic. Through no fault of her own she is two grades behind in school. She's not anti-social but has few friends at school because of the age difference. The friends she does have take advantage of her. They spend time with her only when she has spending money. They also borrow her things and do not return the items in good condition.

Nicki loves to talk about how many friends she has, but she'll also mention that they don't like her sometimes. She lives with her mother for the most part, but when she visits she seems starved for attention. I try to tell her to stand up for herself, but she thinks if she does she'll lose her "friends." Her mother also has low self-esteem, and I think she has passed this on to Nicki.

Is there anything I can do to bolster my step-daughter's self-esteem? And what can I say about her friends without overstepping my boundaries?

"" LOST STEPMOM IN PALAU

DEAR LOST STEPMOM: It is not unheard of for parents who are socially recessive to pass that trait on to their children. After all, children learn by example &

and that's where you may be able to help your stepdaughter. The more time Nicki spends with you, the more she will see how you appropriately handle social situations and contemporaries. You should also share your thought process with her before and/or after you have done so. This will give her coping mechanisms in dealing with her own life.

Although it may be tempting, do not put down her classmates. If you do, it could come across as a criticism of her. Instead, encourage your stepdaughter to get involved in activities outside of school &

perhaps pursue her art, something that she enjoys. That way she can meet peers with whom she has something in common, and who won't have preconceived ideas about her status.

DEAR ABBY: I have a neighbor who honks her horn twice to say goodbye to her children &

at 7 a.m.! It's so annoying to wake up to the sound of a honking horn every morning.

How do I ask this neighbor &

whom I am not friendly with &

to stop this daily ritual?

"" NO MORE HONKING IN PA.

DEAR NO MORE HONKING: Write your neighbor a sweet note and explain that the honking is waking you up. She may be unaware that she is creating a problem. If that doesn't work, then check the noise ordinance in your city. She may be in violation of the law.

DEAR ABBY: I never married "Mark," the father of my 20-year-old son, "Joel," and Mark didn't appear in Joel's life until he was 12. Mark had a relationship with Joel for about two years, then moved to another state.

I learned last night that Mark has died. Joel is a few hours away at college. Should I tell him on the phone or in person?

"" UNDECIDED IN STOCKBRIDGE, GA.

DEAR UNDECIDED: If the situation were reversed, what would you prefer? While Mark and Joel have not been close, your son has still lost his father. To tell him in person would be the kind thing to do.

Dear Abby is written by , also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.