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Q: We recently moved into a new neighborhood and my children have made friends quickly. The custom here is for one mother to call and ask another if her child can come to the house for an afternoon play date.

So far, three out of five of these play dates have been spent watching videos. My kids each watch maybe two hours of television a week, and that's a liberal estimate. I feel that watching television is not playing at all. I'm wondering how to handle this with the other moms.

Should I just come right out and say that I don't want my children watching television at their house, that the mom should call me if the television goes on and I'll come get my child? Or is it rude to call into question what another mother wants to do in her home?

A: I agree with you. Playing and television watching share nothing in common. Obviously, the moms in question do not want the creative helter-skelter of true play going on in their homes. They simply want to appear social and neighborly. That's certainly an improvement over anti-social and unneighborly, but the desire to maintain appearances is no excuse for tranquilizing children with the plug-in drug.

The next time one of these mothers invites one of your kids over for a passivity date, I recommend that you say: "I know you! You're the one who wants children to be silent and still and out of your hair so you can do your nails or take a nap! You lure unsuspecting children away from their unsuspecting mothers and into your nefarious lair, then you rob them of their curiosity and creativity and imagination by mesmerizing them with the boob tube!"

On second thought, I wouldn't recommend those exact words. Actually, and although I agree entirely with your assessment of this non-play-date thing, I encourage you to put it out of your mind. A couple of hours of wasted time here and there isn't going to make a difference in your kids. This is not worth agonizing over, and it certainly is not worth offending your neighbors.

Besides, by being clever and subversive, you can cause the moms in question to never again confuse television-watching with play. What does nearly every mom (not you, of course) want, more than anything? Why, she wants to make sure that everything she does for her child is better by far than what the other moms are doing for their kids! (A man must point this out to you?)

So, with that in mind, every time a mom invites your child over for a video-date, let your child go, then return the invitation as soon as you are able. When that mom's child comes to your house, provide all manner of creative, fun things for the kids to do.

When the date is over, her child is going to go home bubbling over with descriptions of an interesting, truly fun experience. "I hope Mrs. (Insert Your Name Here) invites me back again real soon!" the child will say to his mother, who will already be plotting ways of making the next play date at her house even more exciting, more stimulating, more fun. She will not be outdone, much less by the upstart newcomer!

This reminds me of something the venerable Chinese sage Bobo once said: "The stay-at-home samurai walks through the neighborhood, changing everything for the better, without ever leaving her house. She makes no noise, but all the other stay-at-home samurai sit up and listen."

John Rosemond is a family psychologist. Questions of general interest may be sent to him at Affirmative Parenting, 1020 East 86th St., Suite 26B, Indianapolis, Ind. 46240 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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