TV TIME: 150 FUN FAMILY ACTIVITIES THAT TURN YOUR TELEVISION INTO A LEARNING TOOL. By Debra Koontz Traverso Avon Books, 216 pp., $12 It's Saturday morning. Do you know where your children are? Do you even need to ask? If your home is close to the national average (and your young athletes' soccer games are in the afternoon), more than likely your offspring are in front of the television. But before you allow the waves of guilt to wash over your working-parent-I-want-to-sleep-in conscience, this article is not another rehash of expert's reasons to turn off the tube. In recognition of the reality that children actually love watching TV, writer (and parent) Debra Koontz Traverso suggests a new approach: Work with it. "Tackle the 'TV monster' from another angle," she says, by making the time spent before the diode worthwhile. Sure, monitor and guide what they watch, but put as much emphasis on the way in which they do it as on what they choose to view. Great, you think, something more for me to do in the time I already don't have. To which Ms. Traverso, who put her ideas together in the book "TV Time," responds, "if you took your child to the beach you'd pack a bag, wouldn't you? This is just some preparation for the activity called watching TV." Clearly, a bit of parental education is part of Traverso's recipe. Treating TV as an activity may be a foreign concept to many households, she admits, acknowledging that TV is a relaxer, a baby sitter, and in plenty of homes, background noise to be turned off when it's time to actually do something. But after years of listening to other parents' frustrations and reading the opinions of experts about the negative impact of TV on children, she says she wasn't finding workable solutions. "I was finding that there were only two approaches to TV. Researchers were saying, 'throw the sets out the window!' and parents were saying, 'we're completely overwhelmed and we need a baby sitter!'" Traverso's says neither is realistic. "Television at its best can be great. It introduces children to worlds they may never visit on their own, it helps reinforce social values," she maintains. "But these things can't be done in a vacuum." Recognizing that today's adults have less free time than ever, she has created a handbook that is good for all ages, with bite-size activities that can be picked up and implemented in minutes. They range from careful scheduling to games to be played during the shows to topics to discuss afterward. Chapter headings in her book are simple and (mostly) self-explanatory. "How lifelike is it?" "How would you have handled..." "Is that right?" "Did it really happen that way?" Before you respond that you don't have time to organize games or grill the kids after they watch each show, consider that many of these question-and-answer activities can be done during carpool, bath time or meals. As for resistance from youngsters who are accustomed to unencum- bered viewing-time, Traverso offers this personal experience. "Sure, you'll get some eyeball rolling at first," she laughs. But, she continues, children love knowing that you care about their observations and that you're involved in their lives. TV, she adds, is a big part of their lives and the earlier you send the message that you are part of that experience, the better. Based on responses to the book, the author observes that if she were to do it again, she would have included more on the issue of violence. The question children should always consider while viewing any kind of action show is this: Is this the best way to resolve this conflict for all parties involved, not just your favorite character? "The issue of conflict resolution is so important around the world, not to mention in our own backyards," she explains. Traverso adds that, especially at this time of year, discussions about whether commercials accurately represent their products is particularly relevant. The question can be simple: Do you think the [car, soldier, doll] really works like that when you get it home?" Traverso says many parents worry that rules will only make TV more desirable. "Nonsense. You have rules about swimming, such as you can't go alone. Does that make it more desirable than it already is? Not at all." Her only rule of thumb? "Don't be afraid of a few rules. Kids thrive on guidelines. Why should TV be any different?"