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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: While shopping at a mini-market last Sunday, I witnessed a scene that is re-enacted thousands of times every weekend throughout the country: the exchange of children by couples who are separated or divorced.

The ritual may go quietly unnoticed; however, this particular couple argued, shouted obscenities, drove recklessly, and made a public spectacle of themselves while their three children sat in one car -- and a "significant other" sat in the other.

I am a divorced, single parent. I know firsthand the pain of a failing relationship and ensuing separation or divorce. These situations bring up feelings I would not wish on my worst enemy. Certainly, I would never wish them on my children.

When couples meet to exchange their children, they should put themselves in their kids' shoes. They should ask themselves how they would feel if their parents were saying terrible things to each other in loud, angry voices -- with strangers looking on.

Conversations should be courteous and kept to a minimum. Longer, more detailed conversations can be carried on later, when little ears aren't present. (Children should feel free to love both parents in their own ways and be left out of the particulars.)

Moms and dads should ask themselves ahead of time why the new boyfriend or girlfriend needs to be there. Estranged men and women do not need more fuel for their fires. Children have enough trouble trying to adjust to their new living arrangements without being faced with another wrinkle in the fabric of their lives. And the estranged couple doesn't need another reminder of how far apart they've grown.

A failed marriage doesn't mean the husband and the wife were bad people. However, the high emotions sometimes cause them to say regrettable things. Long after the adults have moved on with their lives, their children will be trying to solve the mystery of their parents' divorce. They don't need more bad memories. Divorced or estranged parents should always put their children's feelings first. -- CARING FOR THE KIDS IN FELTON, PA.

DEAR CARING: I agree. To do anything less is hurtful, immature and potentially damaging to the children. They deserve better.

DEAR ABBY: As the parent of a young musician who recently received a master's degree in music, I was appalled at your advice to the person who inquired about gift-giving at a "senior recital."

Your suggestion to take a photograph during the recital was the worst possible advice! Take it from me, there is NO WAY to snap a photo without disturbing the performer. Any disturbance could create a break in concentration, causing the musician to make a mistake. After months of preparation, performers deserve the best possible conditions for their performance.

Such recitals are required for music degree candidates in college, but only the most serious high school students are dedicated enough to give a senior recital. They usually spend a year preparing their repertoire. These recitals are NOT gift-giving occasions, but a learning experience for the students and a time to share their talents with families and friends. Gifts are not expected, but a small bouquet of flowers before or after the event would be appropriate. -- MOTHER OF A MUSICIAN

DEAR MOTHER: I stand corrected. You're not the only reader who said my answer struck a sour note.

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

What teens need to know about sex, drugs, AIDS, and getting along with peers and parents is in "What Every Teen Should Know." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby, Teen Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included.)

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