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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: For years my husband and I worked at various private summer camps across the Southeast. It always amazed us that parents would send their children to camps without thoroughly checking the conditions of these places. What are these parents thinking? The camp sales videos show only what the owners want the parents to see.

A few pointers when selecting a camp:

(1) Make sure the camp is safe. Don't take anyone's word for it.

(2) If your children went last year, quiz them about the activities in order to find out if they really DO get to participate in everything the video claims. Question them about the plumbing, lighting and water. Children are not dumb. If they observed a problem last year, chances are they'll remember it.

(3) Ask if you can drop in on your kids during camp session. If you do and are asked to wait in the office while they're brought to you, ask why you can't meet them wherever they happen to be at that time.

(4) If you take your kids to camp, walk around and take a good look. Don't just check out the bunks. Walk through the kitchen, the infirmary, and examine the play equipment they will be using.

(5) Ask if your children's possessions will be stored in a secure location.

(6) Find out how your kids' money is taken care of. Where can it be kept safe, and what is the procedure if their money is taken?

(7) Last, if your child constantly complains about camp -- LISTEN. You may be getting a dose of the truth.

Hope this helps, Abby. Thanks for letting us vent. -- FRUSTRATED IN GEORGIA

DEAR GEORGIA: Thank you for sharing your voices of experience. I would like to add three more tips:

(8) Are the lifeguards certified and trained to perform CPR and first aid?

(9) Ask if all the counselors and staff have been screened for criminal records or sex offenses.

(10) When you check out the kitchen, ask the cooks what meals are planned and if there are healthy snacks.

DEAR ABBY: For the past year I have been seeing a wonderful man named "Al." We met only three months after he was widowed, but he felt strongly that we should date only each other. The attraction was mutual, so I agreed.

Al has a male friend he looks up to, for reasons I don't understand. This friend has the reputation of bedding down a different woman every night of the week. I know for a fact he tries to sway Al to go out with other women.

Lately Al has been hinting that he wants to go to lunch or dinner with other women "just to talk" -- nothing else.

At a dance we attend together every week, Al meets other women on the "mix," where you dance a few dances with other partners. I have seen women come on to him, as he is a nice-looking, clean-cut guy and a good dancer. Men come on to me, too, but I would never give them my phone number or line up dates with them.

Al feels strongly about me, and I about him, but because of the constant prodding of his oversexed friend -- and women running after him -- I am unsure how to handle this situation. I am hurt that Al could even consider the idea of seeing other women.

Abby, please advise me. -- HURT IN BOCA RATON, FLA.

DEAR HURT: The most effective way to handle this is to deal with it head-on. Ask Al if he is having second thoughts about your exclusive relationship. If he is, you need to know it right away so that you can begin to date others, too.

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