When Art Linkletter used to hold a microphone to the mouths of children on his show, "House Party," 25 years ago, we heard kids say the darndest things -- as far as kids go.

Today's children still talk, but the things they say would make Linkletter blush. Uniquely bold and blunt, our children seem more sophisticated and can display surprising cool and comprehension when tackling grown-up subjects -- such as divorce, which has affected nearly half the children in America.

"Divorce is better than having your parents stay together and fight," said one elementary school girl during an interview for a television documentary called, "Mommy, Daddy and Me," which airs tonight at 7:30 p.m. on WETA, Channel 26.

"Divorce is okay as long as they don't divorce me," another student said.

"I don't like it," said another, adding with a slight shrug, "but if that's the way it's gotta be, that's the way it's gotta be."

Unlike the Linkletter show, which was a house party of family wit and entertaining revelation, the program, produced by Deborah Tang and Sheila Banks, explores how children and their parents cope with changing family life styles.

What becomes apparent is that kids are no longer just kids.

"We treat kids like short adults," says Ivan Brandon, a free-lance writer, who explains on the broadcast how he and his ex-wife have worked out a successful joint child-custody arrangement.

"We give kids today a lot more responsibility and space," Brandon says. "You just can't raise them the same way we were raised because the system is different."

The show looks at children from three Washington-area families -- a "latchkey child," whose parents both work at full-time jobs, three small children in the sole custody of their working mother, and the Brandons, whose daughter, Ivey, reflects on having two households in which both parents adore her.

For parents who are divorced, joint custody appears to be the choice of many children, who fear the loss of love from any one parent. In one case illustrated on the television documentary, a boy whose father had left home went into his neighborhood collecting "open house" signs and placed them along the walkway to the front door of his house.

When the boy's mother asked why he had done that, the boy replied that he hoped a family with a father would move in with them.

A child's response to a divorce is often painful, and always affects the child in some way. But the effects don't have to be devastating.

That point is underscored even further in a play by this city's Everyday Theater, called "Mother Kid, Father Did What," which will be performed at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Marie Reed Learning Center in Adams-Morgan.

Here a group of Washington youths who have been unemployed, pregnant, in foster homes or on drugs, reflect on their experiences and their families in search of the hope of leaving other youths with the message to believe in their future.

It appears that a new concern for children is rising, riding a shock wave of controversy caused by consecutive reports recently released by the Children's Defense Fund, which painted a bleak picture of children in America today, many of whom suffer from poverty and neglect.

Along with groups such as WETA and the Everyday Theater, other organizations are beginning to focus on ways to communicate with and improve the lives of today's youths

Believing that "every child needs two parents, love and support," the National Council for Children's Rights, will sponsor a round table at 10 a.m. Friday in Room 503 of the District Building. Children will be among those testifying about the need for contact with both parents. The council is working for a joint child-custody law in the District, where 90 percent of child-custody cases are determined in favor of the mother.

This legislation would be yet another step toward recognizing the needs of children who should not only be seen on television and in plays but also heard for the wisdom they possess beyond their youth.