It's bad enough when you're eight and your mother comes to the school concert wearing a crazy hat or a mini-skirt; but at 15 Mike was faced with an even more cringe-making situation. He'd just discovered that his mother and her friend planned to go topless on the Greek island where the three of them would be having a holiday. And when he objected, his mother accused him of being an old prude, and - nudge-nudge wink-wink - pointed out that he'd enjoy seeing teenage girls topless anyway.

The poor boy now dreaded the holiday - and who could blame him? As an adolescent he was just taking his first steps into the sexual jungle; the last thing he needed was to try to come to terms with his mother's sexuality as well.

Nicholas Gough of Malmesbury, Wiltshire, remembers with acute embarrassment the day his mother paraded in a village beauty contest. 'It was excruciatingly difficult to shrug off the comments of the youths in the audience. The situation was more complicated because the contest was a public gathering. It was impossible to express my feelings and I felt I couldn't say anything to my mother because she would have been considerably hurt.'

The fact that Mike's mother pointed out that he might get turned on by topless girls only served to make the situation worse. Indeed, I felt that that remark spelt clearly that Mike's mother and her friend were going on holiday with at least some kind of sexual motive, however small. Was it really fair to involve Mike in what would be probably be a giggly middle-aged jaunt with lots of wine and titters about Greek waiters?

'I feel so very sorry for Mike, whose mother doesn't seem to recognise the very natural and proper modesty of a 15-year-old (of either sex),' wrote Brenda Williams, of Stourport-on-Severn, Worcestershire. 'His mother is very insensitive to a teenage boy's feelings. Of course he probably would enjoy seeing girls of his own age topless, but he is hardly likely to want to discuss that with his mum, and to him, she and her friend are old. She should be grateful that he still has some modesty, and some respect for her.'

So what should he do? Stand up to his mother, advised Pat Atyeo, of Witney, Oxfordshire: 'It sounds as if Mike's mother could be a lot of fun, and warm and outgoing. If so, it's all the harder for him to do what he plainly has to do, which is to stand firm against the disrespect she is showing him. This is not a matter of her morality but his. I suggest he reaches for the power he does have and becomes thoroughly disruptive, angry, vocal, stubborn and unco-operative on this one issue with his mother.

'In particular, he needs to stand against her ridicule. This is hard for any young man and I further suggest that he looks around for whatever allies he can find. The 'topless' question is relatively unimportant - what is at issue is the respect due to Mike himself.'

Don't go, recommended John Burrows of Leicester. Mike should pull out of the Greek trip and sort out a holiday for himself with people his own age.

Threaten, advised Len Clarke of Uxbridge, who said that Mike should tell his mum that unless she covers up, he will take photographs of her topless and hand prints around at school.

But I suspect that would only make things worse. Mum might, with a jokey, flattered laugh, agree, and Mike's friends would think there was something distinctly peculiar about him peddling pictures of his half-naked mother in the classroom.

Appeal to his mother's better feelings, suggested Gillian Vale of Wantage, Oxon. Why didn't Mike ask his mother how she would have felt if, when she was 15, her own father had announced his intention to sunbathe bottomless?

Or perhaps they might reach a compromise - that mum and her friend could only go topless when Mike's not around.

Most people find their parents' sexuality difficult to deal with at any age; but around 15 is the time when children are concerned about keeping sex - all sex - private. Boys stop cuddling their mums, at least temporarily; bathroom doors that used to be open are now locked; shouts of 'Don't come in]' from behind the bedroom door are more likely to mean the kids are getting dressed rather than doing drugs.

As a boy, too, Mike is at an age when, instinctively, he needs to play protector, wanting to care for his mother, see her safely across roads and in bed early. Were she or her friend accosted by a large, leering male tourist, Mike would feel extremely powerless when he needs to feel grown-up and manly.

Rather than a beach holiday, Mike might suggest that a sight- seeing trip would be more appropriate. One in which Mike's mother is not one of the sights.


Dear Virginia,

Down our road lives a gang of young yobs. They are between 10 and 14, black and white. They often come rampaging down the road, pulling branches off the trees, even coming into our front gardens and picking the flowers. The police say they can do nothing, as the gang runs the moment they appear.

If I go out and remonstrate, they scream abuse at me, and when I touched one gently on the arm to stop him breaking a young sapling he said his dad would come and beat me up if I assaulted him. This has actually already happened to one father in our street who was beaten up by a group of men, who broke his jaw. Again, the police were concerned but never had any evidence. Do readers have any ideas how to cope with this situation? I feel like moving house.

Yours sincerely, Sally

All readers' comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted in the column will be sent a Dynagrip 50 ballpen from Paper:Mate. Please send your comments and suggestions to me at the Features Department, the Independent, 40 City Road, London EC1Y 2DB; fax 071-956 1739, by Tuesday morning. And if you have any dilemmas of your own that you would like to share with readers, let me know.