The latest teen comedy is scarcely the last word in parental choice; instead, try an instructional tape. Though they’re not heavily promoted, some effective primers in parenting can be found on the rental shelves. Countless videos offer self-help for individuals, but only one series attempts to do the same for an entire society. The five-volume Raising Good Kids in Bad Times, created by executive producer Arnold Shapiro and writer-director Carol Fleisher — the same team responsible for the explosive 1979 prison documentary Scared Straight — provides parents, children, and friends of the American family with a road map through the dark and dangerous back alleys of modern child rearing.
See Dick & Jane Lie, Cheat & Steal, the most powerful tape in the collection, addresses the basics of childhood character development, as host Tom Selleck introduces seven U.S. school and community programs that help overcome ”moral illiteracy” by teaching youngsters ethical values and self- esteem. Two others, New & Improved Kids and The Truth About Teachers (hosted by Loni Anderson and Whoopi Goldberg, respectively), spotlight exceptional adults whose methods for dealing with children in difficult situations provide actionable advice for everyone. Take Me to Your Leaders has host James Garner presiding over profiles of self-starting youngsters who have seized opportunities to better themselves and their communities (including a 10-year-old Utah girl whose local environmental-action project became the model for a federally funded program for planting trees across the country). The American Dream Contest, weakest of the tapes, features slick cinematic re- creations of kids’ impressions of Americana (the Bill of Rights, the great melting pot), with the late Michael Landon as host.
Driven by the muscular idealism of its subjects and the vigorous commitment of its producers, Raising Good Kids is more than an instructional video for burned-out parents, teachers, and caregivers. It is a heartfelt statement on where we as a society are and, more important, where we can go. Lie, Cheat & Steal: A- New & Improved: B+ Truth About Teachers: B+ Leaders: A- Dream Contest: C