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Watch, TV is Slipping our Toddlers a Mickey

Nearly half of the rug rats fire up videotapes or DVDs. And 10 percent of them have remote-control devices that were designed for toddlers. (I’ve never seen one of those. How does it work? Is it slobber-activated?)

All of this might explain the median IQ level of the new shows on the networks’ fall lineups. Or why CNBC hired the much-fired comedian Dennis Miller as a political analyst: They’ve finally found an audience that thinks he’s funny.

I confess that I’m wading in waters that are a little out of my depth. My wife and I reside in the golden era of life that’s sandwiched between the departure of our grown children and the arrival of grandchildren.

We’re a little out of touch with the latest in baby-raising tools. The last such technological advance we remember was Pampers with self-sticking adhesive tabs.

We quit buying strollers long before they grew to today’s dimensions, which are about those of an Austin Mini Cooper.

According to the Kaiser study, one of the driving forces of toddlers’ TV habits is a series of “Baby Einstein” tapes and DVDs. About a third of the TV toddlers have these tapes in their library.

The “Baby Einstein” tapes are intended to open toddlers’ eyes to the wonderful world of art, language and music, with such titles as “Baby Bach” and “Baby Shakespeare” and “Baby Van Gogh.” Well, fine. But I suspect that they’re still serving the purpose of “baby sitter,” with an artsy-intellect edge that helps unload a ton of parental guilt.

All in all, that’s probably better than having a generation of tots being weaned to the soundtrack of “Terminator II,” and then heading off to kindergarten to read “Dick and Jane” with a weird Teutonic accent.

The “Baby Einstein” series is a brainchild of the Disney entertainment empire, which for decades has produced quality children’s fare. My boomer-generation brethren were raised on Disney movies and TV shows.

Many of us, in fact, were gently shepherded from Toddlerdom to the Age of Understanding by watching in wonder as Annette Funicello’s sweaters expanded dramatically with each new episode of “The Mickey Mouse Club.”

“Hey there! Hi there! Ho there! … Whoa, what’s up with Annette?”

Through the years, Disney grew, too. Even faster than Annette. It now owns the ABC network, the ESPN networks, the Miramax Film Corp. and dozens of other media properties. It is the second-largest media conglomerate in America, behind AOL Time-Warner.

So you don’t necessarily need a tinfoil hat to buy into the conspiracy theory that maybe, just maybe, the Mouse Ears folks are hoping to burn their corporate logos into the consciousness of toddlers at the very moment they have a consciousness, and hook ’em for life.

I could be wrong, of course. A little paranoid, perhaps. But if, 20 years from now, we find we’ve raised a generation of kids who dress just like Peter Jennings and talk just like Brent Musburger, there won’t be much mystery as to how that happened. S

Dave Addis is a columnist for the Virginian Pilot. This column first appeared in that newspaper. Contact him by telephone at (757) 446-2726 or via e-mail at dave.addis@cox.net.

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