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The Tricky Truth About Saying No to Our Kids

Without question, a lot of issues parents deal with demand straight up-or-down votes, but many of the important ones deserve a little procedural respect, sometimes even a debate.
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Recently, I wrote a post about revising Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone on the fly to suit the sensibility of my impressionable and nightmare-prone 5-year-old son. Since then, many people have asked me why I was reading the book to him in the first place if I thought it was too mature. The question, of course, is a valid one and exactly what I would like to discuss today.

A blogger on Babble suggested the answer is that I don't know how to stay no to my child. Man up, she ordered. Ordinarily, I love a strong directive and am happy to follow chain of command if it means I can maintain plausible deniability, but this time I simply can't fall in line. I'm a parent, which means I already say no several dozen times a day. (No, you can't eat on the couch. No, you can't scoot without your helmet. No, you can't stuff your brother into the washing machine.) Without question, a lot of issues parents deal with demand straight up-or-down votes, but many of the important ones deserve a little procedural respect, sometimes even a debate.

Why was I reading Harry Potter to an impressionable and nightmare-prone 5-year-old? Part of the reason was external pressure. My son had a fresh 2-inch scar on his forehead that made almost every person he met, even strangers on the street, say, Hey, Harry Potter, and he wanted to know what the fuss was about. But equally a factor was my own love of the series.

I keep in my head a list of things I can't wait to share with my children -- Buffy, raclette, the Monday night movie on the lawn at Bryant Park in the summer. My husband has a list, too. For 17 years, he held on to a complete set of Pee-wee's Playhouse videotapes just waiting for the moment when he could watch one of his favorite shows with his child. We keep these lists (and outdated technology) because we want our kids to like the things we like. Sometimes in our eagerness for this to happen, we misjudge the moment. This is what happened with Harry Potter.

At dinner the other night, a friend from high school told me about her Xbox quandary, which goes like this: She and her husband don't want to get an Xbox for their 10-year-old son. For one thing, they already have Wii and PlayStation. For another, their son wants to play Call of Duty. They think Call of Duty, which is recommended for ages 12 and up, is too violent.

An easy no, right?

Except, he already plays Call of Duty at his friends' houses and Xbox offers integrated service, which means all his friends are networked and can play Call of Duty as a group while each child is in the privacy of his own home.

"It's basically a playdate," my friend says, and one her son won't be invited to unless he gets an Xbox as well. "I don't want the console, but I don't want him to be left out, either. I honestly don't know what to do."

I know my friend and I aren't the only two parents who are struggling with when to say yes, no, maybe, ask me again in four years. One librarian I talked to suggested that reading Harry Potter too young is probably a rite of passage in some places.

So I throw it back to you. Is there something you introduced your child to a little too early in your eagerness to pass on your love of it? What did you do when you realized you'd made a mistake? Have you ever said yes to something despite misgivings? Did it work out all right or did you regret it?