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There is a book on my desk called "Dear Parents." It is filled with the emotional words of teenagers, random letters to random parents.

They are letters of loneliness, confusion and despair. And letters of understanding, appreciation and thanks.And I wonder, when my son is older, which letter would he write?

"How do I tell you how much I am suffering?" writes Evan. " I never asked to be born. On the contrary, I would rather have never existed. The world is so cruel. Nobody understands me. Everyone judges me, a teenager struggling with drug problems, personality problems and especially love problems."

Parents of babies and toddlers are blessed. Babies cry, we comfort. They're hungry, we provide food. They're tired, we send them into sweet slumber with bedtime stories and lullabies.

But teenagers are old enough to be unhappy - genuinely unhappy, not just momentarily cranky because they already have that Happy Meal toy. And, perhaps even more frightening, teenagers are old enough to look at us - mothers and fathers - and judge us as parents.

Are we good? Are we fair? Are we decent? Are we loving?

By and large, it seems we are not.

A U.S. News & World Report cover story suggests our nation's teenagers are "time bombs." A Carnegie Council report says "half of our 10- to 14-year-old children are at high or moderate risk of impairing their life chances through engaging in problem behaviors."

Convoluted wording, yes, but the message is still frightening.

And Mike Males, a doctoral candidate at the University of California, suggests parents are to blame.

The plain fact, he says, is this: Children act like the adults who raise them. And he has the numbers.

Births to unwed mothers rose 78 percent among teenagers from 1975 to 1990; they rose 79 percent among adult females.

In 1993, boys accounted for 87 percent of all violent crime arrests among youths; men accounted for 87 percent of all violent crime arrests among adults.

Most teen smokers are children of smokers.

I remember being a teenager. I remember lying, sneaking, taking the car to the next town over when I had been told to stay in the city limits. I remember kissing when I wasn't supposed to.

And I remember never doubting my parents' love for me, or my love for them. Even if I never told them until I was old enough to have a child of my own.

How wonderful if my son could be luckier than most. How wonderful if he grows into the kind of young man who - when just a teenager - is already smart enough to recognize the love around him, appreciate it, revel in it. Like Julian.

"Mom, I would like to thank you for all the moments that you never even whispered a complaint. I want to tell you that I love you very much. You always had time to listen to me, understand me. I am sure your love for me will last forever. And so will mine for you."