Suzanne Fields

The culture wars are fierce, with firefights between right and left, conservative and liberal, traditional and postmodern. But the struggle is also generational, between parents and children. We're not talking teenagers and parents, but tiny tots arrayed against their moms and dads.

Several studies demonstrate that very young children may be affected less by what they are propped up to watch on "Teletubbies" or "SpongeBob SquarePants," or even "Sesame Street," but by the programs their parents watch with the little people playing at their feet with squeaky toys, panda bears or building blocks. This is truly a scary thought.

Imagine a youngster - we're talking 1- to 3-year-olds - who happens to be in the same room when his parents are watching the reality shows. Donald Trump could scare the diapers off any toddler. The potty humor on "The Sopranos" might lead infants to think they'll never outgrow their anal years. What tyke wants to grow up in a world as depicted by cable news? Throwing the bowl of oatmeal at mommy's feet is fun, and not nearly as frightful as the noisy and raucous fights of pundits of "Crossfire."

While this could be considered low-level child abuse - and I exaggerate only to make a point - the inevitable experts suggest that "secondhand television," like secondhand smoke, may be dangerous for your child's mental health. But it's not necessarily content that's at fault.

In a study of 2,600 children ages 1 to 3, researchers found that the more television the little people watch, the more likely they are to suffer from attention-span deficit by the age of 7. They have trouble concentrating or paying attention to a toy or a doll for very long.

Although the initial finding sounds like parents ought to keep the tots away from all television at that age - a valid opinion - the study was begun in the 1980s, before most of the shows geared to the younger child (like "Teletubbies) were first aired, which suggests that the children were exposed to shows watched by other adults or older children.

The children under 3 may not have focused on the television, but they could have been influenced by background light and sound. The medium and not the message might have been the culprit. This radical theory - and it's only a theory - is that fast-paced visual images can alter normal brain development.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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