Q. "Ted is 7; Bobby is 9, and I'm ready to throw them or the television right out the window," writes a mother in Silver Spring.
"It rules their lives.
"There's always some good excuse for watching it after school. Teddy doesn't have anyone to play with. Bobby hurt his arm at recess. All the other kids can watch.
"And then at night, it's 'The teacher says we have to bring in a paragraph from the evening news' or 'I've finished my homework' or 'It's not fair; you can watch television when you've finished your work. Why can't we?'
"They find a million reasons to come in and ask questions while we're watching and they keep hovering around until they've seen at least half the show, or they sneak into the playroom to watch it there.
"I'm sick of these fights. I'm sick of C's in school. I'm sick of playing judge, but I'm not ready to throw our TV away. There must be some middle ground."
A. This is a situation that must go on in half the homes in America, and it's easy to see why.
In these middle years television is as addictive as a drug, and if a child has his way he will be riveted to it. There is almost no such thing as too much. But, of course, there are solutions.
It is the parents' job to teach not abstinence, but temperance -- and it takes a certain amount of fortitude to do it. Certainly you do it in other areas. As one study pointed out, parents don't let their children eat whatever they want, whenever they want it, and they surely don't let them have a refrigerator in their bedroom.
Television can bring a lot of joy to a household, but two televisions seldom do. A second one is a bad idea if it can't be supervised.
You also want to keep track of the hours you -- not your children -- watch TV, which are probably more than you think. Your children will copy what you do much more than what they see on television. So if you use it as a drug, so will they.
During the school year television should be limited to no more than an hour a day before dinner and none at all Monday through Thursday nights, whether there is homework or not. These are the limits that prevent much of the TV habit, although a Seven and a Nine are such conformists it would be kind to let them see a few of the most popular shows just once, early in the season. Otherwise they will feel like oddballs at school.
Summer means maybe a show before supper and one or two at night, usually chosen as a family, since a Seven is a fearful soul and a Nine has no discrimination at all. There should, however, be no television for the children if there is as quarrel about it.
You want to watch most shows with your children, both for the camaraderie and so you can counteract any thing you don't like. When you make fun of a show in which the woman is a dingbat, the man a wimp and the child a whiny little brat you also are telling your children that the networks don't know everything. Television influences a child, but parents influence him a lot more. You can reinforce -- or undercut -- any message.
The comments you make will encourage your children to respond, which corrects the greatest drawback of the medium: its noninvolvement. No matter how terrific a Nova show or a documentary or a special, most children won't remember much of it unless they can talk about it during the commercials -- when you turn down the sound -- and when the show is over. A child learns by talking, by reading, and by doing, far more than he learns by watching.
A sitcom also can be the springboard to talk about weighty subjects like cheating or shoplifting or even sex or drinking. Just because a Nine doesn't talk about these things doesn't mean he isn't thinking about them.
Perhaps one of the reasons children watch so much television is because we forget to offer alternatives.
Although you probably will see more television than your children under this new regime, you should give up some in favor of family activities -- walks, a game of Scrabble, a drive to play miniature golf or to get ice-cream cones.
Your child still needs his weekly trip to the library with you, even though he can get there on his own; it's such a sociable thing to do. And he surely needs more than the school's annual field trip to "The Smithsonian," since there are 13 buildings to see.
Pack the car with a rackful of bikes on a Sunday and drive to the Mall to wheel around. You can stop for a picnic at the tables behind History and Technology, a ride on the carousel, and half-hour visits to a few buildings, and still have a soft and lazy day.
And for the time all children need alone, try Cricket.
It's a first-rate magazine for 6- to 12-year-olds with about 80 pages of facts and fiction, classic and modern, and an international flavor. It also includes the best poems, cartoons and stories that its young readers submit each month. Send $9.75 for nine issues to Cricket, Box 2670, Boulder, Colo. 80322, or get a sample copy for 50 cents (in coin) from Box 100, LaSalle, Ill. 61301.
The more involved a child becomes in the world around him, the less competition television will give.