RAISING KIDS PBS, 13-part series of half-hour shows airing at different times in different localities; check local listings. Host David Birney. HOW do you treat children when going through a divorce? How do you motivate an underachiever? At what age is it okay to allow your children to let themselves into an empty house? How do you help youngsters face up to the stresses they feel, get them into bed, prepare them for a trip to the dentist?
Though answers to such questions can be controversial, this series dodges dispute by offering differing viewpoints in non-doctrinaire fashion. When ``experts'' disagree, host David Birney says so. When research points in different directions, that is pointed out as well.
Based on a look at seven of the 13 episodes, I found ``Raising Kids'' a welcome, if admittedly simplified, tool for parents of 3- to 12-year-olds. Much emphasis is placed on finding individual solutions based upon one's own values. As a result, the series creates a forum in which each question is discussed from a number of points of view. Each 30-minute show deals with three or four topics.
What you're likely to come away with is a heightened awareness of the ``agenda'' of child-rearing - what problems might crop up, how some could be avoided, what researchers have learned, what they haven't.
``Raising Kids'' also reminds you that ``as a parent, grappling with such topics, you are not alone,'' says Mr. Birney, a father of five, now divorced.
One example of the show's approach is the segment on issues surrounding day care. It explores the pros and cons of both staying home to raise a child and putting him or her in day care. It draws on the real-life experiences of two working mothers. Child-care experts Polly Spedding of Cornell University and Ellen Galinsky of the Bank Street College of Education talk about the difficulty of making day-care decisions and examine the mixed feelings of parents in both situations.
How do you teach your child not to be racist - or how to respond to racist attitudes on the part of others? Dr. Alvin Poussant, the noted child-development specialist at Harvard, and Dr. Sandra Fox of the Judge Baker Children's Center in Boston advise parents to begin teaching multicultural understanding and acceptance at an early age, without shielding children from the realities of society.
The list of other topics dealt with in the series is exhaustive: textbooks, nannies, adoption, standardized testing, missing children, house-husbands, gifted kids, interracial families, and choosing toys, movies, and music. But the format makes such wide-ranging material digestible by delivering it in bite-sized chunks. The result is a pick-and-choose smorgasbord.
As the father of one with another on the way, I honed in on a segment about sibling rivalry, which advised on how and when to intervene - when mean words become mean actions. It discussed the importance of spending time with each child alone. And it presented ways to introduce the new child into the family without making siblings feel threatened.
Birney, interviewed by phone, says the segment on single parenting stood out to him; since the divorce last November he has had custody of twins. ``I particularly welcomed the idea of building an extended family, because suddenly there is twice the work to contend with and half the people,'' he says.
``I don't think the series pretends to answer all the questions about developmental sexuality or divorce - but it does raise the issues and provide some solutions,'' he adds.
Last but not least, ``Raising Kids'' showcases some programs in leading schools, corporations, and communities that have proved successful in solving time-worn problems - seeds for sprouting the best ideas elsewhere.