Retaking Control Of The Television

Face it, parents: Your kids aren't budging. You've been pestering them to pay more attention to their schoolwork and chores and knock off MTV and Nintendo. Yet you know the little rascals are stealing hours of unapproved tube time when you're not home to police them.

Cheating is out with the arrival of TV Allowance, TimeSlot, and SuperVision, a trio of small black boxes that impose a blackout on kids who watch more TV than you prescribe. The devices control the flow of electricity from the wall outlet to the TV set. You plug and lock the television's power cord inside the contraptions, then program in a viewing allowance for each child. When the kids exceed their limits, the TV shuts off.

MASTER CARD. With TV Allowance and SuperVision, parents and kids punch in personal access codes on numerical keypads. Your password is the one with clout, used to select viewing patterns for up to four children. SuperVision ($90 from Tectrics Labs, 800 845-1911) lets parents choose daily or weekly limits. You pick a weekly allotment with TV Allowance ($99, 800 231-4410), although a "save" function lets the kids accrue TV credit from week to week.

Kids are issued TV credit cards with TimeSlot ($130 from the North Carolina Public Television Foundation, 919 549-7132). You activate the system by swiping a special parent credit card through a small groove on the TimeSlot unit; you can grant each child from 1 to 90 viewing hours. The kids use their own plastic to turn on the set or to check how much credit they have left. TimeSlot comes with one parent card and four child cards; four extra cards go for $8.95.

Rest assured, the elders can program any of the systems to catch their own favorite programs. While each device can block out specific times when you don't want your children watching, none of the gizmos will let you delete individual channels. Many cable boxes and several newer television models and remote controls have features that allow mom and dad to play censor.

The new devices may help teach adolescents such grown-up concepts as time management and the art of compromise. Your kids may even want to steal some extra viewing time by sitting on the couch and watching Masterpiece Theater with you.

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