DEAR ABBY: A reader recently wrote to request your seal of approval for her decision to keep her young sons on a leash when she takes them shopping. You offered your full support, and I must take exception to her choice and your defense.

I have no doubt that her intentions were good, but I suggest that you consult with some of your psychologist experts to determine if there isn't good reason to believe that the psychological damage to her sons' spirit will serve to keep them "restrained" throughout their entire lives, leaving them unable to make the kind of independent decisions they will need to assert themselves and develop leadership qualities when they get older.I base my suspicion on the fact that I was "tethered" as a child. I am now a 43-year-old man who is still searching to learn what I will be when I grow up. I am not ignorant. I maintained a B average for two years in college, then I dropped out. Not finishing things was commonplace in my life. I am now in therapy trying to learn what is at the root of my self-defeating behavior. I think it was because I was "harnessed" and not allowed the freedom to investigate and satisfy my own curiosity.

I hope this doesn't sound like I am trying to blame my mother for all my problems. If she did contribute to my failures, I'm sure it wasn't intentional. Her motivation was the same as "A Loving Mom's" concern for her child's safety and for her own peace of mind.

Abby, there must be some other way to keep children out of the paths of cars, and close at hand, that is not as likely to inflict long-term damage to the child's psyche. - CHARLES IN ODESSA, TEXAS

DEAR CHARLES: I consulted Dr. Judd Marmor, past president of the American Psychiatric Association. He said, "The writer is wrong to assume that the fact that he was `tethered' as a child is an adequate explanation in itself for his subsequent self-defeating behavior as a grownup.

"One cannot take an isolated fact like that out of context. If the tethering is done under realistic circumstances, e.g. restraining a hyperactive child from suddenly breaking away and running into the street, it is simply an indication of the mother's appropriate concern and caution.

"On the other hand, if it is a part of a total `controlling attitude' that does not allow a child any sense of freedom at all, then it's a reflection of a very unhealthy mother-child relationship that may be injurious to the child's personality development.

"It is the TOTAL relationship that counts, not the isolated incident taken out of context."

DEAR ABBY: You had a letter in your column some time ago from a Palm Springs mom whose son chose to stay with his dog instead of visiting his mother.

Such a son might reconsider his priorities if he realizes that the manner in which he treats his mother today is exactly what his own children will learn about how to treat dear old Dad someday.

This ancient Korean tale probably says it best:

An aged woman lived with her son and his family. At each meal, a worthless chipped bowl was used for the elderly woman's food. One day, the old woman died. Her son, observing that he no longer needed the bowl, announced that he would finally throw away the piece of junk. "Father," cried the man's own young child, "you can't throw away Grandma's bowl. I must keep it for when YOU are old." - FROM ELK GROVE VILLAGE, ILL.

1990 Universal Press Syndicate