Wednesday, May 03, 2000

Buckle up before you ride off that cliff

Hey, moms, here's a surprise: A new survey says that television shows contain far too much unsafe behavior. And we're not even talking about Walker, Texas Ranger taking on multiple gun-wielding thugs with just his bare feet, or foolish women falling in love with maverick loner series regulars when they know they're just going to get killed off before the end of the hour, or cocky contestants on "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" risking thousands on wild guesses while they still have lifelines.

No, the researchers were more concerned about the way characters leave their helmets off when bicycling or cross in the middle of the street, without even looking. Kids, don't try that at home! Researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia checked out over 200 kiddie shows and found 47% showed at least one habit you don't want your youngsters picking up. More than 50% failed to show consequences for unsafe behavior. And more than 60% of cartoons showed safety violations. This is probably not even counting things like running in place when someone's chasing you or using Acme products without reading the instructions or picking up an anvil to drop on somebody's head without properly warming up your muscles first.

The one thing that really surprises me about the study is that kids who watched four hours of TV a day were found to be more than four times as likely to sustain injuries requiring hospitalization. But when did these children have time to injure themselves? Seems to me the safest thing would be to keep the younguns parked, semi-comatose, in front of the set, unable to act on all those unsafe impulses for lack of opportunity. Don't let them up! Don't let them out!

But of course, there will have to be changes in these TV programs, for all those kiddos out there who can't tell 'toons from the truth and believe that, say, swallowing explosives like their favorite animated character and getting that black-and-sizzled look would be cooler than cool. From now on, any Road Runner cartoon will have to include a scene in which Wile E. Coyote puts the defective Acme product back in its original packaging and delivers it to Ralph Nader; he and his little bird buddy can then slowly walk--because running fast along cliffs and in the vicinity of cactus is surely unsafe--to Mr. Rogers' place to resolve their differences in a calm and reasonable manner. Those Animorphs kids may no longer turn into animals without parental supervision, and they must remain on a leash at all times. No more broomstick-flying for Sabrina the Teenage Witch unless she's outfitted with helmet, kneepads, and a good working parachute. The children of America don't need anything left to chance.

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