Are You a Helicopter Parent?

When to Hover -- and When to Back Off

Nobody wants to be labeled a helicopter parent -- a hyper-vigilant mom or dad who micromanages their kids' every move. But when it comes to kids' entertainment, nothing gets our rotors spinning faster than a Viagra ad during their favorite show or a frightening movie trailer before a PG-rated movie.

The latest argument against helicopter parenting can be found in a new book by Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd. In The Parents We Mean to Be, Weissbourd says that too much attention actually makes kids miserable and deprives them of the ability to develop their own values. In other words, trying to control everything your kid sees, plays, and listens to -- not just in your own home but everywhere he goes -- might not be doing your kid any favors.

And yet we live in a world where our kids seemed to be plugged in at all times. And without parental interference, they might never tune back in. If you want more control over the stuff your kid sees -- whether it's via the TV, game consoles, or smartphones -- hovering is hard to avoid.

Every family has its own definition of what's acceptable, but the scenarios below can offer some guidance when a brush with age-inappropriate media pushes you into overdrive.

Balance Your Reaction with Common Sense

Iron-Clad Rules
After a playdate, your 10-year-old reports that he and his friend watched a bootleg copy of the latest gore fest -- in theaters now, but they got a copy online!
Over-reaction: Forbid your child from playdates until he's 30. While you're at it, ban all movies not rated G and give him a lecture on copyright law.
Common Sense approach: Talk to your kid about your family's rules for what's OK to watch. Every family is different, but your movie rules still apply when your kid is at someone else's house. Next time, ask him to call you first -- and let the friend's parents know that your kid needs to check with you before watching any movie above PG.

Porn Peek-a-Boo
You get a phone call the day after your 8-year-old visited a friend's house. The problem? Apparently, your kid and his friend saw some very age-inappropriate photos online.
Over-reaction: Take your kid to the doctor to find out whether he's scarred for life. Install bullet-proof parental control software and monitor your kid for behavioral changes.
Common Sense approach: Explain to your kid that there's lots of stuff on the Internet that's not geared for kids -- and is, in fact, intended just for grown-ups. Set your browser's search filter to the strict setting and explain that you want to be around when your kid goes online. Be available for questions if your kid has them, but know that 8-year-olds move on rather quickly.

Dysfunctional Ads
Watching TV with your kids, you notice more and more ads geared toward an older audience. It's not just the erectile dysfunction ads but also the promos for shows and movies with age-inappropriate content.
Over-reaction: Cancel cable and disembowel your TV for good measure.
Common Sense approach: Try muting the commercials. Use the breaks to talk to your kids about the show you're watching. Or get a digital video recorder (DVR) and record your kid's favorite shows -- and fast-forward through the ads.

Family Feud
Your kids' cousins have free run of the TV, Internet, game consoles -- you name it. When your kids visit their house, you know there will be no limits, not to mention supervision. Not only that, they tirelessly impart their vast knowledge of the Jackass movies and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 to your kids at every opportunity.
Over-reaction: You can't very well cut off all contact with your relatives, so you appoint yourself the supervisor of every cousin playdate. You run yourself ragged trying to rein in the chaos, earning an unflattering and unmentionable title in the process.
Common Sense approach: Schedule off-line activities, like trips to the zoo, hiking, or the skate park -- enlisting the kids' help with planning. Sometimes kids get over-exposed to media just because they have nothing else to do. As for the cousins downloading details of games and movies your kids aren't allowed to watch? Ignore it -- and if your kids start asking for that stuff, refer to scenario number one, above.

Are you a helicopter parent? How do you stay grounded?