Parent: I wish my kids liked to read as much as your kids like to read.
Me: Well, you should know that we put the television way downstairs out of the main room and they don't watch anything until after dinner.
Parent: We could never get rid of our television! My husband likes to watch his shows. And we watch the news.
Me: I didn't say we don't have a television. We just keep it downstairs, out of the way, and we limit the amount of time the kids are on any screen, actually.
Parent: Well, our house isn't as big as yours. We have to have the television in the main room.
Parent: I wish my kids would read more.
Me: I actually make mine read. I hand them a timer and tell them to go get a book. They moan, but they get over it, and they have learned to enjoy it.
Parent: Oh, well, I don't have that kind of control over my kids.
Me: I'll take something away from them if they don't do what I tell them to do.
Parent: But my kids don't even like reading.
Parent: I wish my kids liked books.
Me: When people say that, I usually try and tell them how it works for us. We put the television way downstairs. And they don't get to watch anything until after dinner.
Parent: Oh, television isn't the problem. It's video games and cell phones.
I've had hundreds of the conversations like the ones above. It may be thousands, but I don't want to exaggerate, so I'm saying hundreds.
And at this point, I'm feeling self-righteously confident about the issue.
Parents have to pick their battles.
And before I even had children, I basically picked one battle, and it was the battle over the television.
I was never going to be ruled by the television.
Back then it was just the television.
Now it's also computers, game consoles, hand held devices, tablets, cell phones, smart watches, etc.
So I ought to say that I think the battle is really over screens.
I have this belief that if I "win" the battle over the "television" or "screens," I will have a better chance of winning every other battle that comes.
I may be right.
I'm not sure yet, because I'm still in the midst of the battle.
But as far as I can tell, there are several battles I haven't even had to fight, because I am "winning" the battle over screens (and all the influences screens bring into my kids' lives.)
My kids are quick(er) to listen when I call them, don't complain over chores, have countless interests, enjoy nature, like to run and play and hike and swim, etc. look people in the eyes, like to talk to me and to each other and to other people, etc.
They're downright weird by today's standards.
I may be wrong, but I credit the lack of screens in their lives to these behaviors.
And as far as I can tell, there are battles other parents can't even begin to fight, because they aren't "winning" to battle over screens.
What most people's kids are totally obsessed with, my kids have no idea that even exists. My kids live in another world entirely. Arguably, it's the real world, because it's not a virtual one.
So far as I can tell, the only difference between "us" and "them" is how often screens are "on" flashing, entertaining, pacifying, messaging, advertising, texting, etc.
It's really "old-fashioned" in the sense that my kids might as well be living in the nineteen fifties or sixties given the amount of media they consume.
But many people treat us like we may as well be living in the frontier days when they find out our teenage daughter doesn't have a cell phone.
Well, our daughter does have a cell phone to use when she needs it.
It's an old phone we're done with that's on the family plan.
As a family joke, we call it, "The phone that is not yours."
She rolls her eyes.
She takes this extra cell when she goes to a friend's house or goes to volunteer somewhere or to hike in case of emergency.
But she definitely doesn't carry it everywhere in the house.
That's probably because if she did, we'd say something, and if that didn't put an end to it, we would put an end to the phone.
We're total Vikings when we feel we need to be.
For instance, we had to tell her not to take the cell phone to her room last week, because we found out she had been watching way too many You Tube videos that way.
So she stopped taking it to her room. It's been living on my dresser. She could go get it if she needed it, but she hasn't.
Thus, she has stopped watching too much You Tube for now.
Don't imagine she doesn't have any tech.
She has a tablet and her own laptop, too.
She Skypes and emails and goes online to connect to her writing group.
She's in there now on the laptop, probably looking at memes.
Her father and I aren't total Neanderthals.
But the laptop does have to stay on her desk in the classroom now, because she was simply on it too often when she could carry it everywhere and anywhere in the house.
How could we tell it was "too much?"
You can always tell.
She started snapping at people who spoke to her, she started acting lethargic, she lost interest in other things, etc.
Parents just know when tech's taking over.
And that's when we made the rule about the laptop being always on her desk.
So, for now at least, that is no longer a problem.
If it becomes too big a problem again, we will just disappear the laptop for a while.
It's really that simple.
That doesn't make it easy, but it is simple.