Parents@Play Holiday Gift Guide Number 4

Whether you’re someone who’s made an art of procrastination, or you’ve just been holding out for the final, final markdowns on all those post-Black Friday super sales, you’re all out of time. If you’re still at a loss for what to get the children in your life, you can’t go wrong with these.


hovertech target fxHoverTech Target FX (Blip Toys)
Despite what you see on TV and in the movies, hitting a moving target is incredibly difficult. So as you unbox your new Target FX, you’ll also need to unbox a lot of patience. Fortunately, the HoverTech is so much fun that you won’t even notice the time. The HoverTech moves up and down and has a floor sensor that keeps it from landing until you’ve shot it down. Comes with the drone, one charging/docking station, one blaster, and three darts. It’s also available in a two-blaster kit. Ages 8+. Under $35.


hulk smash carMarvel XPV Remote Control Hulk Smash Vehicle (Jakks Pacific)
One of the coolest remote control toys we’ve played with, this car features everyone’s favorite green rageaholic flipping, spinning, doing wheelies, and more on a HYDRA vehicle. He also yells out 10 phrases (including grunts and growls). Hulk’s arms are adjustable and swing, so he can smash everything in sight. They also help him right his car if it falls over so he quickly get back to smashing duty. Nothing else on the road stands a chance. One warning: this is a very loud toy, so if you’ve got sensitive ears, you may need to leave the playroom. All ages, with adult supervision. Under $60 at your favorite retailer.


nono falcon xsNano Falcon XS (Silverlit Toys)
The Nano Falcon XS bills itself as the world’s smallest remote-controlled helicopter, and it’s got the certificate from Guinness World Records to prove it. But that doesn’t matter if it’s not fun to play with and easy to operate. Fortunately, the Nano delivers on both counts. Like its larger cousins, the Nano flies up, down, right, left, forwards, and backwards. Two things to be aware of: Compared to other RC helicopters you may have flown, this one is a little pokey. But that’s not a bad thing if you or your children are new to drones. Second, because of its size, Nano doesn’t do well with turbulence, so use it indoors only, and keep it away from open windows, fans, and air-conditioning units. Ages 10+. About $40.


glo wubbleWubbleX and Glo Wubble (Wubble Ball)
If you’ve ever played with a Wubble, you know how fun these giant ball/bubble/balloons are to smack, kick, and bounce around on. Now the original Wubble has two siblings: WubbleX and Glo Wubble.  Wubble X is essentially a mini-me to the original. The biggest difference is that you inflate your Wubble X with helium instead of air. You still punch and kick Wubble X, but now it also floats around the room as if by magic. The Glo Wubble is simply a glow-in-the-dark Wubble, which means that the fun doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down or the lights go off. Original and Glo Wubbles retail for $19.99 and include a pump. Wubble X retails for $7.99; helium cans are $7.99. All ages, with adult supervision.


Curiosity PackCuriosity Pack (Curiosity Pack)
Although the Curiosity Pack comes in a box, it’s definitely an out-of-the-box learning system. Each pack contains age-appropriate learning activities that help kids learn about letters, numbers, science, art, and more. The Packs also give parents some valuable insights into how children learn so they can take an active role in their children’s education. Ages 3-10. $35.

Slingshot or Boomerang? Your Choice

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 15-year old son is still a few years away from college, but my wife and I are already thinking about when he’s going to move out and begin a life on his own. A number of our friends have kids who have already graduated from college and one after another, those kids are moving back home. We love our son and would be happy to have him visit anytime—or move back for a short time in case of emergency—but we really want him to be self-sufficient. What can we do now to make sure he can make it on his own out there?

A: The fact that you’re asking the question at all gives your son a better chance than other kids his age of thriving in the real world. Too many parents cross their fingers and hope for the best; you’re actually taking steps to make it happen. For everyone else, finger crossing and hoping aren’t terribly effective strategies.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of young adults living at home has more than doubled over the past three decades or so. Back in 1980, about 11% of adults 20-34 spent some time living with their parents. Today, it’s nearly 30%. Young men are a bit more likely than young women to be sharing a roof with ma and pa.

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Raising Healthy, Happy Kids without Becoming a Tiger

Shimi Kang, author of The Dolphin Way.
: Raising healthy, happy, motivated kids without turning into a tiger.
Issues: What happens to kids raised by Tiger parents? the skills required to succeed in the 21st Century–and how Dolphin parenting encourages their development; The importance of play and downtime; what happens to kids raised the Dolphin way?

Back off, Helicopter Parents. Further Back.

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m 19 and going to college nearly 1,000 miles from home. The problem is that my helicopter parents won’t let me alone. For example, since I don’t have any income, they’re paying for my cell phone, but they call me nearly every day and ask where I am and what I’m doing. They go through my bills and demand to know who I’m calling and why. And they’re constantly emailing and calling my instructors asking how I’m doing. It’s incredibly embarrassing. I’ve asked them to give me some space but they refuse. What can I do?

A: I’ve talked a lot in this column about how important it is for parents to stay involved in their children’s lives, to take an interest in their friends, their activities, and their education. Let’s give your parents the benefit of the doubt and assume that they have the best intentions—they love you and want you to succeed in life. Great. But there’s a clear line between being supportive and involved and being an intrusive helicopter parent—a line your parents crossed long ago.

The good news (actually, it’s not good news at all) is that you’re not alone. In a recent study of more than 400 college students from around the country, 25% said that their parents “make important decisions for me.” And a third of the parents admitted that they made important decisions for their college-age children.

Ideally, the three of you would be able to talk this through, so even though you’ve already done that without success, I suggest you try again, this time be firmer, but not hostile (in a few years, when you have kids of your own, you’ll appreciate having your parents around to help out). You might want to mention that the same study I mentioned above found that helicopter parents’ intrusive behavior backfired, decreasing students’ engagement in school and increasing their likelihood of skipping classes and turning in assignments late. According to the researchers, by not giving you the opportunity to solve your own problems and make your own decisions, helicopter parents may be robbing their kids of “the experiences necessary to develop skills that are essential for success in marriage, careers and adult social interactions.” You can read more about this study on helicopter parents here.

If mom and dad still don’t back off, you’ll have to take more serious steps to protect your privacy. First, get a job so you can pay for your own phone. Keep your old number so your parents can reach you in case of emergency, but get a new number too. Next, talk to school administrators and your instructors. Most colleges and universities have policies that prohibit them from discussing your grades or much else with anyone you haven’t specifically designated. Be very clear that your parents are NOT on the A list.

If none of that works, there are other alternatives. Like you, Aubrey Ireland of Lakewood, Kansas didn’t appreciate her parents’ constant intrusions. But when they told the head of her department that she needed treatment for mental illness and then accused her of being promiscuous and abusing drugs, Aubrey took them to court, according to an article in the journal of the American Bar Association. Her parents countersued, demanding that Aubrey repay more than $60,000 that her helicopter parents had spent on her education. But a judge granted a restraining order requiring ma and pa to stay at least 500 feet from their daughter and have no contact with her. Pretty extreme, but a story that might resonate with your parents.

Come Fly with Me: Remote Control Helicopters

This week, we review four different remote-control (RC) helicopters (there are so many more that we’ll be reviewing more in the not-too-distant future). Each is a little different, but they do have some things in common. To start with, you’re going to need a lot of batteries. In most cases, the remote control unit (not the actual helicopter) takes 6 AAs. The choppers themselves have rechargeable batteries that will give you 10-15 minutes of flight time between plugins. They also all have a built-in stabilizer (sometimes called a gyro) that, as one of the manufacturers put it, lets you focus on flying instead of on trying to keep it from crashing. Finally—and most importantly—they’re a fantastic way for dads and kids to have a ton of fun playing—and learning about the physics of flight—together.


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Electronic Toys That Aren’t Video Games

With the constant barrage of ads for video games and game consoles (Xbox, Wii, and the like), it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are a ton of other cool, imagination-capturing electronic toys that don’t have a screen at all—and don’t need one either. Here are a few of our favorites.

slot cars from carerraSlot car sets. If you haven’t driven a slot car since you were about 10, you’re long overdue. Today’s cars are made with digital switches, meaning you can have more than two on a 2-lane track. Our set from Carrera ( accommodated up to six, each with its own controller. With digital, the cars move from lane to lane at different switching points allowing for passing and intense action while speeding around the track. Expect to pay around $300 for a good set that includes two cars. But you and your kids will have so much fun that on an hourly basis, the purchase price isn’t all that bad. Be prepared for some serious squabbles over who gets the “best” cars.

Pinball. When bowling became cool again a few years ago, it was only a matter of time before pinball followed. For about $500 you can pick up a vintage game that’s fun to play and makes a great piece of modern art. Games that might have lasted only a few years in a smoky bar (or bowling alley), can last a lifetime in your rec room. Pinballs aren’t maintenance free, but they won’t break you, since the games themselves are simple collections of wires, switches, and cheap bulbs—simple enough to also provide years of lessons in basic circuitry and great joint, dad-kid projects.remote control helicopter from swann

Remote control helicopters. These have been on the market for five or six years and boy, has the technology evolved. The earliest ones had rotors that usually snapped during the first flight, ruining any hope for quality time—and making parents wince every time junior took the controls because of the repair costs. New choppers, like the Military Thunder by Swann (, use multiple flexible rotors that make flying a breeze, right out of the box. Apparently, it’s all about the “twin counter-rotating coaxial rotors.” You’d never find that technology in a real helicopter, but it makes the scale models a lot more stable and increases lift. The only downside that we can see (aside from knocking Ming vases off shelves), is that you get only 5-10 minutes of flight time per charge.

Remote-control boats. If you’re near a toy-boat-friendly lake or pond, remote-control boats, like the Balaenoptera Musculus, are great fun. But be sure to spend time researching battery life. You don’t want to schlepp all the way to the park for a 5-minute boat ride and then have to head home to recharge.

lazer stunt chasersLazer Stunt Chasers ( A new—and very unique—entry in the burgeoning remote-control toy market is the Lazer Stunt Chaser, which you can steer by pointing a laser beam where you want the car to go. The cars are two-sided so, with the included flip ramp, they’re up and moving whichever way they land—at scale speeds up to 300 MPH. At a 1:32 scale, Stunt Chasers are a comfortable size. Unfortunately, at about $65, they’re a little pricey, but still a ton of fun for dads and kids.