SCHOLARS at the University of Massachusetts have just made being a parent a little more complicated. For years mothers and fathers have been able to pin many of their struggles with juvenile intransigence on television. Unmade beds and undone homework? The tube's to blame. The responsible parent padlocks the TV. The truly virtuous parent bans it altogether.
Now Daniel R. Anderson, a professor of psychology, and Patricia A. Collins, a graduate student, have reviewed the volumes of research done on the effect of television on children and concluded that there's little evidence that viewing time is time spent in a mental vacuum. They say most kids view TV critically, questioning the content, thinking about it.
Perhaps this is a needed counterpoint to the view that almost all the ills of modern society are either generated or aggravated by television. But parents who have to call three times, ever more shrilly, to break an eight-year-old away from the small screen probably won't be convinced. And that's just as well.
The best reading of the UMASS study, commissioned by the US Department of Education, is that TV can be stimulating to youngsters, and may even spur the learning process - if the viewing is done intelligently, with the stewardship of caring adults. Parents are not being told that hours in front of the television are fine, just that those hours ought to be planned.
TV, after all, hasn't been around all that long. It's still evolving, as are the abilities of viewers to use it wisely.