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Q: When does protecting your kids from inappropriate themes become sheltering them? With my boys now 12 and 13, I’m still nervous turning over the remote to them without supervision. At the same time, I understand I can’t hide them from the world forever, and I don’t want to prevent them from having the cultural experience of a great film or television show just because of a few bad words.

We live in times when kids are certainly being introduced to more mature content at younger and younger ages. Advanced technologies, as well as music they love, expose them to themes and language, whether accidentally or intentionally, we didn’t see or hear until we were much older.

In addition, the standards of “decency” have changed dramatically from when we were raised.  (I grew up in a time when Ozzie and Harriet slept in separate beds, and Harriet always wore a peignoir!) How’s a parent to know what and when? Good question!

There is no magic age that answers this question, and every child is different, one being more mature or able to understand those concepts earlier than another.

You must know that after a certain point, it’s impossible to shelter your child from the things that you worry about his knowing, as long as he has access to someone’s internet … and to peers. You would be amazed at how much kids learn from someone’s older sibling or someone who has an older sibling. The only thing I can tell you for sure is that sheltering is no guarantee that your child will not learn about the very things you worry about.

Your question reminds me of a client who attended my “Birds and Bees” seminar. At the seminar’s conclusion, almost defiantly she announced to me that she had no intention of telling her 10-year-old daughter about the birds and the bees. Why? Because she didn’t want her daughter to have sex before she was married! (This is a true story!)

All this is to say, I believe you cannot—and maybe should not—completely shelter your 12 and 13 year olds beyond age-appropriate parental controls. Note the use of “age appropriate.” Your kids are aging! It’s likely that they already know far more than you realize.

I also want to point out the obvious: your kids are very close in age. While your 13-year-old may be less sheltered, it’s highly likely that your boys share a lot of secrets.

At their ages, your focus ought to be on communicating your values and beliefs, and helping your sons to process what goes on in their world. For example, watching a movie or non-network TV program that has spicy language, you underscore they are hearing movie talk that is used for effect, not language that is used in normal communication. And if they never hear you using that language, they will certainly have a model for when it is and isn’t OK to use those words. (But doesn’t everyone slip once in a while?!) Conversations about what they hear or see give you the opportunity to create the spin you want.

For many reasons you are not wrong to worry about sheltering your kids too much or too long. First, as previously said, sheltering will not prevent exposure. But second, sheltering can also deliver the incorrect message, that of communication lines being closed. We want our kids to talk to us, to ask us questions, to know we are here for clarification and help.

And just know, if there are not open lines of communication on all topics, your kids will likely seek their answers elsewhere. Their being overly sheltered deprives you of the chance to do your parental duty of teaching your kids values, morals and ethics.