Today's Parents Need to Relax a Little

Today's parents are often reluctant to let their kids do the things they did at that age. I don't let my children date, they don't stay out until midnight on weekends, they've never seen a rated R movie at 14, and they certainly won't have a chance to get throw-up drunk at age 16.

But what about when they're 10? Would you let your kids ride their bike out of your sight? Would you let them spend the night at a friend's when you barely know the parents? Or how about letting them build something in the garage with tools without your supervision?

What about letting your 10-year-old watch a PG movie?

I saw a recent advice letter in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (official motto: "No, we don't mean 'smarter.' Stop emailing us.") that may be a little too protective. A helicopter mother wrote to columnist Carolyn Hax, concerned that her 10 year old son was hearing about PG movies from his friend.

The other 10-year-old boy has told her son about "cool movies" like Stripes, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and Groundhog Day. The mother is apoplectic and very concerned about her precious snowflake's emotional well-being.

Snowflake is not allowed to watch television at all, she says, except for the occasional G-rated DVD.

So Snowflake's mom wondered if she could tell the ne'er-do-well's mother those movies were harmful to both boys, without actually hitting anyone with her helicopter blades.

I can appreciate a parent's desire to keep their children safe from the world, but I also know our children will grow up and step into that world one day. And if we've done a poor job equipping our kids for that world, they'll still be living in our basements well into their 30s.

So when Snowflake's mom asked Hax whether there was a diplomatic way to say "I think her son's movie viewing is harmful to her son and mine," Hax wisely said no.

No, there is no diplomatic way you can have that conversation without coming across as a total wet blanket who's never truly happy unless she's interfering in someone else's life.

You can tell her, said Carolyn, that your son can't watch those movies at his friend's house. You can tell her you won't be showing them at your house. But any more than that, and you're accusing the other mother of being a terrible parent.

I wouldn't be concerned about the harm 1980s movies are doing to a 10-year-old. If we should be concerned for anyone, it's Snowflake. His mom just told the world he's only ever allowed to watch G-rated movies.

I can relate. When I was a kid, I was only allowed to watch one hour of TV a day during the week, and five hours on the weekends. This wasn't as bad as you might think.

This was in 1977, when there were literally five stations. One of them was PBS, and the other was so staticky, you couldn't watch it if there was a single cloud in the sky.

The real problem was my mother.

When I was in the fourth grade, my school was wrestling with whether to put televisions in the classrooms.

Parents were up in arms! They feared this would lead to mayhem in the classrooms, because teachers would leave cartoons on all day long. Never mind there wasn't a single cartoon on until Saturday morning.

Our parents worried we would be running around unsupervised in some Lord of the Flies tribal society, where we all smoked, drank whiskey without wiping off the bottle, and watched hours and hours of daytime television.

This wasn't even the worst part.

The worst part was when my mother spoke up at a PTA meeting and told an entire gymnasium filled with parents and kids that I was only allowed to watch one hour of TV a day. She was worried that we'd break my limit on a daily basis in the classroom, and I would slowly grow stupider as each TV minute ticked by.

For the next few weeks, other kids teased me about only being allowed to watch an hour of television, and I had to suffer in silence. How do you defend yourself against a rule you agree is totally asinine?

What valuable lesson did I learn? First, I learned not to tell my mom about watching The Three Stooges at friends' houses. I learned not to tell my parents about movies we saw, which is how I was able to see Caddyshack at age 14, when a friend's mom bought us tickets.

If anything, Snowflake's mom is teaching her son a very valuable lesson about the way the world works. When you want to do something badly enough, do it when your parents, or other authority figures, aren't within earshot.

That lesson has served me well for decades. Especially now, because it gives me an idea of what my kids are up to.

Photo credit: Greg Williams (Creative Commons granted to Wikimedia Commons and Wiki-World)

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