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Even twice isn't enough for kids of the VCR age


Twelve-year-old Rosanna Murillo has seen "Pretty Woman" 56 times.

Nilofar Karbassi, 9, can recite lines from "The Little Mermaid" after watching it at least three times a week for the last six weeks.

And 5-year-old Adam Real can tell you when the bad-guy scenes are coming up in "Pinocchio," which he has seen 10 times.

It's not that these children can't remember what they watched before. And it's not that their video library is limited to one measly tape.

They are just, well, just being kids.

And they are growing up in Los Angeles, where riding a bike after school in the neighborhood is no longer considered safe, where latchkey kids baby-sit themselves and where movies are king.

So they watch videos. Over and over and over.

Call them the rerun generation.

Parents, teachers and child-development experts agree that young people are practically toasting their favorite movies in the videocassette recorder. But they disagree on whether the practice is creating a generation of zombies or if it's a harmless habit.

One analyst argues that the repetition is nothing more than an electronic version of reading that favorite book.

"Anyone who's ever read to a child, and has tried to read a different book each night, knows that children like to hear the same thing over and over," said Peggy Charren, founder of Action for Children's Television, a nonprofit group that helped enact legislation to make networks more accountable for the content of children's programming.

"This has been true even before those wonderful video machines made it possible to control what you see and how often you see it."

Just as today's children recite lines from their favorite movies, yesterday's younger generation repeated lines from their favorite stories, Ms. Charren said.

"One of the reasons children feel in control of something is that they know what's coming. There's no anxiety," Ms. Charren said. "The thrill of recognition is part of the learning experience."

But Sally Gross, a child-development specialist who instructs preschool teachers at UCLA, says that although it is natural for children to want to watch the same video time and again, they are wasting precious time by doing it.

"It's the cheapest baby sitter a parent can buy," Ms. Gross said. "It's easy. There's not a lot of thinking going on. Watching a video does nothing. It just pickles their brain, unless it's violent or frightening -- then it's harmful. I don't know what's going to happen to these kids."

For Rosanna Murillo, a Los Angeles sixth-grader, "Pretty Woman" is a feel-good movie she watches at her grandparents' house, where she goes after school while her mother works.

Her favorite scene is when Julia Roberts' character returns to shop at the same Beverly Hills boutiques where she earlier was snubbed by saleswomen. The second time around, it's Ms. Roberts who gets to do the snubbing.

Rosanna's grandfather, Tom Smith, said he would rather have her watch videos in the safety of his home than risk danger in the street.

"The way things are today isn't like when we were kids," Mr. Smith said. "She's here every night, and I know where she is. I don't feel the streets are safe."

As long as Rosanna keeps her video diet to such fairy tales as "Pretty Woman" and "Dirty Dancing," Mr. Smith said he isn't concerned. However, he does limit her video viewing to one a night.

"It's not as bad as the stuff on TV," Mr. Smith said. "That I have no control over."

Nilofar Karbassi also has to limit her video-watching. So far, she has seen "The Little Mermaid" about 20 times.

"I can't watch it every day because my mom won't let me," Nilofar said. "I like 'Little Mermaid' because she can go underwater and then she got feet."

Adam Real's mother, Robin, said her 5-year-old son needs to watch videos at least a few times to grasp the full meaning of the film.

"He misses things the first time he watches them," she said. "He's outgrown 'Barney,' but he watches 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' all the time. He didn't like 'Bambi.' He didn't like the part where they burned the forest."

Ms. Real said her two teen-age boys watched videos with the same fervor that Adam does.

"It didn't hurt their imagination at all," she said. "They are all doing well."

UCLA's Ms. Gross acknowledges that there is some good to video viewing. For example, a child could overcome fear by repeatedly watching a mildly frightening video, such as Disney's "Pinocchio," which is the No. 1 selling video on Billboard's video sales chart.

And she acknowledges that we have to live with the idea of home videos, which are being purchased at an increasing rate. The number of videos being bought compared to rented has escalated in the past five years, said Seth Goldstein, editor of Billboard's home video section.

Of the videos on Billboard's Top 40 video sales chart, 13 are children's movies, including five "Barney" videos, which are geared to toddlers; the family-oriented "Beauty and the Beast," which has sold more than 20 million copies; and "X-Men: Deadly Reunions," a favorite of young and adolescent boys.

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