PARENTS, THOSE folks who are expected to have all the answers, will be able to replenish their supply of replies tonight during two hours of public television aimed at giving parents a good start -- or a start over.
Two shows, one locally produced, offer questions and answers about parenting issues ranging from shoes to self-esteem.
The National Parent Quiz (9 p.m. on Maryland Public Television, channels 22 and 67) is more of an essay test than a pop quiz. Each segment of the hour-long show begins with a vignette from family life, depicting issues such as communication, role modeling, stress and parental pressure.
A group of parents, celebrities, family counselors and teen-agers discusses each situation and how it might have been better resolved. Or, in some cases, what a good job the adults did to ease a stressful situation and identify with their children.
Underlying the national quiz is the belief that effective parenting helps to prevent alcohol and drug abuse among youngsters, says Barbara Gibson, a spokeswoman for WMFE-TV in Orlando, Fla., which produced the quiz along with Oregon Public Broadcasting. There is, however, little direct discussion of such abuse.
Preceding the national quiz is "The Baby Phases Quiz" (8 p.m. on all MPT stations), a more practical test of parents' and grandparents' knowledge, produced by MPT. The "questions parents ask most," as host Steve Aveson characterizes them, touch on premature babies, immunizations, day care and emergencies.
The show invites viewers to grab paper and pencil and keep score with a panel of mothers, fathers, grandparents and nurses.
In the national quiz, the answers are not nearly as easy to define. "There is no hard-and-fast right or wrong," says Gibson. "There is just better."
In the first vignette, for instance, a tired father arrives home from work as his wife is leaving for her job. He just settles into his chair for "some peace and quiet," when the children demand attention. He goes through a good-parent, bad-parent battle over whether to yell at the children or play with them.
The ultimate question facing him -- and many parents -- is "How do you cope with being a parent and have a life of your own?"
The panel, which includes actor Ben Vereen, has no easy answers. It offers only suggestions that the parent plan time alone, as well as with his youngsters; that he explain he can't play now but will soon and then keep that promise; that he move outside his own problems to try to see what the children need. There is also the realization that sometimes -- often -- parents won't have time for themselves.
Gibson says The National Parent Quiz is a beginning, a first step toward being a better parent or getting help to be a better parent.
The final segment urges parents to remember when they were kids; to recall their hopes, fears, likes, dislikes when they were the same age as their children, and to let those memories be insights.
Panel member Philip Diaz, who works in the office of National Drug Control Policy and has four step-children, suggests "parenting with your heart. Trust your instincts," he adds. "Trust that other person who is your child."
Gibson suggests that parents invite older children to watch with them, using the show to initiate family meetings or discussions on how to make family life easier and more rewarding.
For single parents, especially, the show advocates a teamwork approach to parenting, with teachers, friends and other family members helping the parent to rear her children. Gibson advises parents to watch the show with these other "team members," too.
"The best way to approach this show," she says, "is to come to it knowing that you don't know all the answers. You are going to see yourself -- if you're a parent."
Who to call
The real goal of "The National Parent Quiz" is to reach out to parents who need or want help and offer them that help, says Barbara Gibson, a spokeswoman for WMFE-TV in Orlando, Fla. The show airs tonight at 9 on all Maryland Public Television stations.
Here are some places to reach for help:
* Parents Anonymous of Maryland serves troubled and homeless families, teen parents and victims of child abuse. Hot line, 243-7337.
* Parents and Children Together (PACT) offers help to children with developmental delays and support to families of such children, 539-PACT.
* Maryland Youth Crisis Hotline handles all kinds of calls from young people in need, 1-800-422-0009.
* Child Help USA National Child Abuse Hotline, 1-800-422-4453.
* National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1-800-333-SAFE.
* Drug Abuse Information and Referral Line, 1-800-662-HELP.