- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 21, 2006

“I hate logic puzzles,” Jimmy lamented recently. “I stink at them. I’d rather just do math.”

Logic puzzles, if you don’t know, are those confusing story problems that give only enough variables to the solution to cause the puzzler untold hours of confusion, not to mention holes in the paper from erasing answers over and over, such as this:

Five parents pick up their children at the Parkway Elementary School every Tuesday to bring the children to their after-school activities. Each of the five attends a different after-school activity, and their parents always arrive at different times (between 3 and 3:30 p.m.). Determine each child’s full name, the first name of the parents picking them up, the time each was picked up and the activity each child attends.

To exercise the brain, the puzzle includes a few key facts that (supposedly) are enough to answer the questions. Usually it feels as though there isn’t enough information to fill in the blanks, but in reality, everything you need to solve the puzzle is there.

I actually like it when Jimmy is assigned a logic puzzle, but that’s probably because I’m good at them. (Unlike Jimmy, I stink at math.)

Bring home a page of middle school algebra and watch me sweat. About all I remember is that you have to do the things in parentheses first. However, give me a logic puzzle with a graph to track my answers, and in no time I’ll discover Colleen’s mother’s name, the time Susie is picked up for ballet, which child Mr. Jones drops at baseball practice, and whose mother drives a sport utility vehicle. I even could add a column for “likely fast-food choices on the way to practice.”

Makes perfect sense to me, but maybe that’s because the life of a suburban mom actually is a lot like a logic puzzle.

These assignments are great learning tools, and I’m glad my son’s math teacher still uses them to promote problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Those are skills he’ll need as an adult (probably more than algebra, at least until he has a middle schooler of his own).

Lately, though, I’m starting to think an entire generation of American adults may have missed out on the middle school logic curriculum. Never mind problems that resolve which child gets a ride to an after-school activity, at what time, from which parent. How about this puzzle:

The two top-rated new television shows among children aged 2 to 11, according to Nielsen Media Research, aired at 10 on a school night; were written and produced for an adult audience; and focused on sex, dysfunctional families, business corruption and the Hollywood media machine. If children aged 2 to 11 are sleeping at 10 on a school night, how are they able to watch NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” in such large numbers that Nielsen declared these the highest-rated shows among America’s youngest viewers?

Scratch that puzzle. There is no logic.

There is this, however: According to Media Life magazine (www.medialife magazine.com), a publication for advertisers, “It’s not too hard to figure out why ‘Sisters’ did well in the [demographic]. Its lead-in, ‘Desperate Housewives,’ is one of the top shows among kids 2-11, averaging a 2.5 in the demographic. And ‘Sisters’ is similar in theme, with family intrigue, back-stabbing and sexual shenanigans.”

Well now, that makes more sense. The children who watched the first episode of “Brothers & Sisters” were already perched on the couch to watch “Desperate Housewives.” For a moment, I thought maybe they actually had gotten out of bed for a drink of water and used that opportunity to tune in to an inappropriate adult television drama, but this explains it.

All exasperation aside, here’s what puzzles me most: The evidence about the risks to children from unfettered media exposure — be it viewing or hearing about violence, sexuality or adult themes — through television, radio, movies, newspapers, magazines and via the Internet, overwhelmingly indicates that children absorb and imitate the behaviors they see and hear through these sources.

Studies already have drawn direct correlations between childhood exposure to media violence and sexual behaviors and the onset of aggression and premature sexual activity.

In addition, graphic content (real or depicted by actors) can cause children to be anxious and afraid.

Yet measurements such as Nielsen’s television ratings prove parents aren’t protecting childhood innocence in the family room, and statistics (not to mention recent headlines) about youth and the Internet show we aren’t safeguarding their innocence in cyberspace.

I think there are enough variables to solve this puzzle, but there’s a disconcerting lack of logic in the mix.

Incidents in the past few weeks, from school shootings to a congressional sex scandal, have sadly robbed children of their innocence. Those involved in these episodes — if they haven’t lost their lives — have lost a part of themselves they can’t regain.

Obviously, we’re quick to respond with grief and indignation at the selfish, twisted behaviors of the adults who wreaked such havoc in the lives of their victims.

But there are other children — innocent victims, too — sitting at home, watching graphic stories about these events on the 11 p.m. news, right after they catch installments of their favorite adult-content TV shows.

That’s also lost innocence, but where’s the indignation? And where’s the logic?

Columnist Marybeth Hicks, a wife of 19 years and mother of four children, lives in the Midwest. She uses her column to share her perspective on issues and experiences that shape families nationwide. Visit her Web site (www.mary bethhicks.com) or send e-mail to [email protected]