It's no secret that most busy American mothers use the TV set as a live-in babysitter. In some households the tube holds a child's attention for the odd half hour or two while mom works on dinner; in others it is the child's constant daytime companion. Is there any harm in this?

Debate rages over the question, and periodically research is published showing that TV reduces attention span, makes children jumpy or inclines them to violence. In today's cartoon David Horsey makes fun of the claims of "children's TV", the special programming that supposedly uses entertainment to help youngsters to learn to read and take their first steps in the big, diverse world outside their family. What do children really get from this programming?

Horsey's suspicion is that children's programming chiefly turns kids into TV addicts, not into readers or happy mixers. The toddler in the cartoon, still at the age of pacifiers and stuffed animals, is held spellbound by the figure on the screen. What is the stimulating message of this creature specifically designed to fascinate small children? "Can you say TV?" The sooner the kid learns the word, the more effectively he can remind -- or nag -- his mother to turn on the boob tube.

A child hooked on TV is a viewer open to commercial messages, and there are plenty of those targeting children of all ages. Thus, at the very least, mom's search for peace and quiet sets the stage for her child's transformation into an American consumer -- and, of course, soaks up time that could be used for other, perhaps more desirable, transformations.