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SHOWS FOR YOUNGSTERS AND THEIR PARENTS TOO : Beyond diapers and tips on naps: 'Parenting Today' on CNN has a serious side


Pat Etheridge wants to make it clear that her new CNN show Parenting Today should in no way be considered competition for Lifetime's popular and long-running "What Every Baby Knows" and "Your Child and You."

"I didn't want to do a diaper or mommy show, since that was being done," the former CNN news correspondent says. "With my news background I wanted the show to have a more serious edge and be more far-reaching. What we say is: It's not just choosing day care, but choosing college." The show tackles issues from infancy through the teen years to college.

"Parenting Today" joins CNN's prestigious Saturday public affairs lineup.

Etheridge, who worked closely with CNN in developing the show, says producers "decided we should do a magazine-style cover story every week, go in-depth with an issue or a story, a very personal human-interest story."

The first show dealt with the evolution of families' traditional roles from the '50s to the '80s. "We re-examined how women [who] chose careers initially over family have delayed childbirth," she explains.

Living in Atlanta and working as a CNN "on-call" correspondent, Etheridge found that her life paralleled that of her audience. After 10 years as a roving newsperson, Etheridge, with husband and journalist Monte Plott, became a parent.

"It was such a tough role," she recalls of her son's earliest days. (Micah is now 3.)

"If I was working on a big story, I wanted to see it through and yet, I wanted to be home with him. It was a real battle within and I didn't want to give it all up. I was really feeling that struggle myself, it was becoming universal." So, when she was given creative license with the show, Etheridge ran with it.

In the aftermath of the Oklahoma bombing, "Parenting Today" looked at the effects of the tragedy on children. "We stay close to the news, the news that warrants an examination of parenting issues, and we do it in a serious manner," Etheridge says.

The show also hopes to revisit stories. "As a journalist, I would often cover stories and wonder what happened to the people involved. Here, we can go back. It's very fulfilling."

She acknowledges that the show is "still evolving, it will change and we may go on-line. And, we may change the format."

But some features will remain, including "My Turn," where children can speak out on whatever they want. "If the subject is TV," Etheridge explains, "a kid can say, 'I hate it when my mom won't let me watch what I want.' "

Also featured are what Etheridge calls "bumpers," short tidbits called "Pearls of Wisdom" offering up a quote or advice from parenting experts, who are also highlighted in "Ask the Expert" segments where parents ask for advice on a popular topic, such as sleeping, potty-training.

Raising children, the host says, "doesn't come with a guidebook, and we all have doubts, questions to wonder about. Parents are hungry for answers to questions, some embarrassing, all the 'Is this OK?' kind of thing.

When experts differ--and they often do--she hopes the show will present a balance of opinions. "It's like a diet book, which one do you believe?" she says. "One week, we had three different experts who had three different opinions of how a baby should sleep. We look at all aspects of different situations."

Shot in various model homes around Atlanta, the show hopes to mirror the homes of its viewers. "It's unique," Etheridge explains. "We didn't want it to be sterile or on a set. This way, we're in many different homes that have nurseries, teen rooms and playrooms."

"As far as I know," Etheridge says, "there's nothing like this show on television, a show that tackles more than just infancy and toddler years, but school-aged children, the teen years and all the news, in addition to the good, practical information for babies, children and beyond that."

"Parenting Today" airs at 3:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Saturdays on CNN. For parents.

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