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The question

My wife and I both work – I do most of my work from home, but she works long hours. We have two boys, 11 and 8. We have always had part-time babysitters to help us out. Our most recent one – a guy in his 20s – has been with us for just over a year. We think he's great, our boys think he's great, he does a lot of sports and other activities with them. But recently he did something that made us question his judgment. Our boys have a program on their phones enabling them to create short films from some sort of template – horror, romance, et cetera – and while in his care they both created films, but using quite a few adult words. The one our older son made had a slang word for "penis" as part of the title, a word we didn't even know he knew, and the film had quite a few smutty references. I think our caregiver thought we'd think it'd be funny (we run a pretty loose household), but my wife is questioning his judgment. What do you think I should do? Say something? Fire him?

The answer

I should probably begin by tossing out a little caveat about my own parenting "style."

Even calling it a "style" is a bit rich. It's a "style" in the same sense as when a car hits a patch of ice and starts hurtling toward a brick wall, the driving "style" of the guy behind the wheel is to hold up his forearm to protect his eyes from shattering glass.

I'm not even sure the word "parenting" applies, especially in the early going. I tell people: "My kids were raised in an atmosphere of benign neglect – and I only say 'benign' to make it sound good."

Here's a snapshot: me, at the park with my first-born, Nicholas, a toddler (he's 19 now). Him: "Dad, I'm hungry and thirsty." Me, having forgotten to bring anything, sending him over to one of the real parents to cadge animal crackers and a juice box. Him having to waddle, because his diaper is heavy as a brick. … Somehow, my kids turned into outstanding, upstanding young men (at least they always knew they were loved). But anyway, you've been forewarned – and thus forearmed – to take it with a grain of salt when I say I wouldn't make too much of your caregiver's lapse in judgment, especially if you like him.

The situation does raise a couple of interesting issues. One that stumps a lot of parents, I think: "How do I interpose myself between my kids and the juggernaut of popular culture, so that they might maintain their innocence bubble as long as possible?"

It's tough. In our household, we have five phones, three laptops, a desktop and two tablets. How do you monitor all these devices?

And then it's not so obvious any more what's going to be "adult" content. You walk by, hear light, upbeat music, see they're watching a cartoon, and think: "Oh, no problem."

But it turns out to be Family Guy, which you discover is actually quite adult and cynical (as I did when a set of headphones broke on a long car ride), and its creator, Seth MacFarlane, is basically the devil.

No parent I know is 100-per-cent successful in keeping the innocence bubble of childhood intact, so I wouldn't be too hard on this babysitter for failing in this regard. Where he has fallen down, as I see it, is not rebuking your boys for using the words they know.

I'd be pro-active. Sit your caregiver down. Explain to him when he is taking care of your kids, he is in loco parentis (okay, maybe don't use Latin) – an extension of you, basically – and that although your household may seem loosey-goosey, it is, in fact, not on some fronts, and this is one of them.

Explain that you know they know these words (one finds out what new words one's kids have annexed to their vocabulary, I've found, when they conk their heads or stub their toes), and maybe even the concepts behind them, but that doesn't necessarily mean you're "cool" with it. Let him know it's his job when he's in loco parentis to set boundaries, and the use of this type of language is one.

And it was definitely an odd choice on his part not to think that up on his own, so I'd put a metaphorical yellow sticky in his dossier, and if another lapse of judgment comes up, take stronger action.

Until then, my basic feeling (as a loosey-goosey dad myself) is: no real harm, no real foul.

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