'Cryptkeeper': Bad Choice for a Sitter

Whether intentional or not, television serves not only as a source of entertainment or diversion, but as baby-sitter to millions of children. The people who choose which programs to air, particularly at times when children are the targeted audience, need to take more responsibility for their decisions.

Children who lack adequate social activities, educational stimulation, parental involvement or who are emotionally troubled are the most likely to suffer adversely from the violence and distortions of reality presented on TV.

It is within this context that I react to an assault about to be made on younger children in their own homes ("Abracadaver! New Toon Too Gory for Kids?," Calendar, June 19). A TV network and a production company, in spite of their defensive protestations, will be exposing children to violent fantasies and macabre stories. By their own descriptions of the content, it can be predicted that many youngsters will experience extreme anxiety and terrors that will be beyond their ability to understand or contain.

The host of the show, a "rotting corpse" called the Cryptkeeper, described as being suitable for youngsters because it will be dressed "in fun outfits to portray a gentler image," is either some public relations ploy gone awry or an obtuse repetition of a flimsy rationalization.

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ABC's Jennie Trias, president of children's programs, said, "We're under the impression there's a certain amount of scare factor that kids really do enjoy, the whole roller-coaster effect, the rush of adrenaline." There is room for adventure and excitement on TV, but death, gore and blood (green, red or otherwise) do not belong on television, let alone on Saturday morning TV. Unfortunately, our children are exposed to more than their fair share of "scare" in their own neighborhoods.

According to Toper Taylor of Nelvana Productions, "The formula will generally be that a kid, or young adult, will do something that's wrong, and thereby unleash the monster to teach them a lesson." The message that children will receive is that incorrect behavior will be punished by the most gruesome and violent "corrective" measures. I trust that the transgressions of Taylor's children do not merit similar reactions.

I note that the producers hired a child psychiatrist from Massachusetts General Hospital as a consultant. Dr. Brian Newmark states: "This is clearly a case where parents need to be in charge of what gets watched on the TV. And they have to set the limits." Will it come as a surprise to Newmark that some parents cannot or do not exercise that responsibility? Does it occur to him that children actually change stations themselves, even with the most caring and vigilant parent? The result is that vulnerable children will be exposed to very frightening and destructive stimulation unnecessarily.

This is not about First Amendment rights. This is not about parental responsibility--or the lack of it. It is about good mental health practice, and about the obligation of our society to help protect the precious and dwindling time we permit our children to be children.

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