Q: How can parents counteract the violent messages children get as a result of television and video games? I don't even let my boys watch "Power Rangers," but they know everything about the show anyway.
& -- P.F., Dallas, Texas
A: You're going to have to do battle with the tube.
How drastic the measures need to be may vary from child to child, ranging from limiting the hours spent watching to blocking certain programs to cutting out TV altogether.
Regardless of the method you choose, parents who called Child Life say it won't be easy, especially for the first few weeks.
"I don't let my children watch that much TV," says Cindy Muzzy, a reader from Miami. "I have to put up with a little whining, but that's OK. The parent is in charge, not the child.
A recent New York Times poll showed 84 percent of Americans said they had at some time stopped their child from watching a TV program because they objected to its content.
Even though most parents know they should drastically change their children's viewing habits, it's extremely difficult to make the commitment to do so.
"An incredible number of parents think of TV as an opportunity for some spare time," says Leonard Jason, a professor of clinical and community psychology at DePaul University in Chicago.
At the very least, parents should try to eliminate violence -- everything from cowboy reruns to "Rescue 911," says Milton Chen, author of "The Smart Parent's Guide to Kids' TV" (KQED Books, $8.95). "Parents should examine every message from TV and think about whether they would allow a stranger who came to the door to come inside and say that same thing to their child."
Parents who are serious about this problem will probably need to spend more time involved in their children's free time, says Dr. Jason, author of the forthcoming book "Remote Control" (Professional Resource Press).
Many parents called Child Life to advise getting the child out of the house altogether.
"Take them to the park, play softball or cook dinner together," says Jana Unsworth of Chesapeake, Va.
What's really annoying is to cut off violent TV in your own house only to have your kids pick up all the latest karate kicks on the playground at school.
"You can never protect your child from all the negative influences of TV -- you just have to do the best you can," says Dr. Jason, who has spent 16 years studying children's television viewing. "When this happens, use the experience as an opportunity to educate the child and talk with them about your own values."
The early school years are the time to begin helping your children become media literate, Mr. Chen says.
"You can begin to help your kids understand that television is not real," he says. "Violence on TV goes unpunished, but real violence hurts people and has consequences."
If you're planning on tuning out, here are some resources that have been a huge successes with my own 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son:
* When you're desperate for distraction, try the Odds Bodkin Storytelling Library, a marvelous collection of stories on cassette tapes ($9.95 each) that are sure to send a kid's imagination soaring. To order, call Rivertree Productions in Bradford, N.H., at (800) 554-1333.
* You'll find great ideas in all of the activity books by Steve and Ruth Bennett. Titles include "365 TV-Free Activities You Can Do With Your Child" (Adams), "Cabin Fever" (Penguin) and "Kitchen Time" (Penguin). The paperbacks cost $6.95 to $7.95 each and should be available in bookstores.