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Please bear with me while I rant and rave: What is this business of allowing children older than 6 months to walk/ride/be carried around with pacifiers protruding from their mouths?! I see 'em everywhere! Some of the kids in question are 4 or 5 years old, for cryin' out loud! Not only does it look downright stupid, and the older the child the stupider it looks, but it also serves no good purpose other than to feed an addiction, one that need never have developed in the first place!

And don't tell me, you parent for whom this shoe fits, that your child can't do without it, because he or she certainly can! Throw it away today and your child will live! So will you! And let's face it: This is your addiction, too!

That's right. We're not just talking about a child addicted to a "passy," but also a parent (or parents) who obviously cannot tolerate a crying (or chattering) child and is, therefore, addicted to the child being addicted to having a pacifier in his mouth. Once upon a time, I thought this was benign, inconsequential. I saw no problem with parents allowing children as old as 3 to suck on those vile devices.

For that reason, I accept my fair share of responsibility for having assisted in unleashing a monster. I hereby repent and commit myself to correcting this error.

No way should a child older than 18 months be allowed to suck on a pacifier. A growing number of pediatricians and speech therapists are convinced that the use of a pacifier beyond that age can adversely affect speech development and contribute to serious articulation problems.

Think about it: Pacifiers immobilize the tongue, possibly preventing the child from learning to properly pronounce words. The more the tongue is immobilized past the time when clear speech should be emerging, the more risk of speech problems.

"Hold on, John!" someone is shouting. "In your ranting, you implied children shouldn't have pacifiers beyond 6 months. Now it's 18. What gives?"

Caught that, eh? Good for you! Beyond 6 months, a pacifier is unnecessary, even counterproductive. Beyond 18 months, it becomes a risk factor. I have no problem with parents using a pacifier during the first few months of life to establish a routine feeding schedule or calm an especially irritable (colicky) baby. There is not even a problem with letting a toddler have a pacifier only at bedtime (albeit this isn't necessary, either).

But again, evidence is mounting that when a pacifier is used throughout the day much beyond 6 months, it actually prevents the infant from learning to calm himself. And to anticipate the next question, thumbs and pacifiers are horses of two entirely different colors.

Children who suck thumbs are self-pacifying. Furthermore, unlike the case with a pacifier, a child must take his thumb out of his mouth to use his hand. To my knowledge, thumb sucking is not associated with speech problems. Orthodontic problems, yes, but thumbs are another column. Besides, the pacifier problem can be solved in a day, in an hour, in the next minute, even! Just lose it, toss it, whatever.

I have to believe that the ubiquity of 2-plus-year-old children strolling/riding through public places with pacifiers stuck in their mouths is just one more example of how American parents are slowly but surely extending infancy indefinitely. Other symptoms of "perpetual infancy syndrome" include children who sleep in their parents' beds, suck on bottles beyond 18 months, ride in strollers at age 3 and beyond, and still wear diapers during the day beyond 30 months.

Why are so many of today's parents having such difficulty letting their children grow up? Maybe it's because then they'd have to grow up, too. It's a thought.

John Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 9247 N. Meridian, Indianapolis, Ind. 46260 and at his Web site:

If you or someone you know has parenting problems, call the Parents Anonymous 24-hour confidential Help-Line at 892-2172.

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