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Television has become such a pervasive influence that it has taken over many families. The TV set often dominates even the dinner table, thwarts conversation and fills the hours with distorted images of life.

The extent of the viewing and the effect it can have on children - and others - was outlined this past week in the findings of a five-year study by the American Psychological Association. Among other things, the study found:- The average child watches three hours of television a day and by the seventh grade has seen 8,000 murders and 100,000 other acts of violence. Violence occurs five or six times an hour on prime time and, surprisingly, 20 to 25 times an hour on Saturday morning children's programs. Such scenes can influence aggressive attitudes and behavior. Despite many fine offerings on TV, the violence is clearly endemic.

- Clear messages about sex are portrayed, mostly between unmarried couples with little commitment to each other. Pregnancy or disease are rarely shown as the result; neither is the moral devastation that sooner or later follows such behavior. Yet TV is used as a source for norms of behavior by some viewers.

- Negative stereotypes of women, racial and ethnic minorities are often strengthened. Appearance is valued over capabilities and competency.

- Television watching begins in infancy because many parents park babies in front of TV sets to quiet them. Pre-school children have difficulty distinguishing commercials from programs.

One message that comes from the report is that parents have a responsibility to control what children watch instead of simply turning them over to an electronic baby sitter.

The study suggested that a national policy be formed to promote television quality, saying the United States is almost alone in the world in having no coherent policy about television.

Given the remarkably pervasive nature of television, some attention should be paid to a larger public interest beyond whatever mindless program might be selling best at the moment.