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US State Unveils Instruction Manual For New Parents - 2001-11-03

Hollywood celebrities and child development experts in the U.S. state of California have unveiled a teaching tool for parents. The educational kit will be given to the parents of each child born in the state.

Called a "Kit for New Parents," the collection of six videos and child-care literature will be given to 500,000 parents in California every year. The massive undertaking is funded by a special cigarette tax of 50 cents a package, imposed under a citizen ballot measure called Proposition Ten.

California voters approved the measure in 1998, providing revenues for preschool education, health care for young children, and education for their parents.

Actor and director Rob Reiner spearheaded the measure. He is now chairman of the California Children and Families Commission, which oversees the programs. This week, he announced the new educational project. "You hear so often parents say (after) they bring their children home from the hospital, they say, 'I wish this kid came with a manual'. Well, we're today essentially providing that manual," he said.

The cigarette tax provides more than $600-million each year for children's programs. The annual cost of the video kits is $23-million. Rob Reiner notes the kit is being distributed in English and Spanish versions. "It will also be translated into a number of Asian-Pacific languages down the road," he said. "But the six videos are focused on the early years, early bonding and attachment, child care, health and nutrition, safety, early literacy, and discipline."

A $120-million media marketing campaign is also conveying the message that the early years are crucial in a child's development. "A child's brain develops most dramatically during the first three years of life, and when you read, talk, or simply play with them, studies show they'll be happier and most self-confident, better able to communicate, and better prepared for school and for life," says a narrator in the marketing video.

Television ads will also run in Spanish. Television ads have also been produced in languages from Mandarin to Vietnamese.

Hollywood celebrities host the videos in the parents' kit.

Actress Jamie Lee Curtis narrates one on literacy. A mother of two, she notes that parents are the primary role models for children. She says experts note that harmful behavior is often repeated in successive generations, as mistreated children grow up and become parents themselves. The children of alcoholics, for example, have a greater-than-average risk of addiction to alcohol.

"In families where violence is perpetrated on children, those children turn out of be perpetrators of violence," she said. "In families where illiteracy is the norm, those children have a better chance that they will be illiterate."

Although funded by a tobacco tax, the videos emphasize the harmful effects of tobacco on young children. They note that adults who smoke increase the risk of disease for the children in their household, and that pregnant women can harm their unborn fetuses through exposure to second-hand smoke.