As we were listening to Disney Radio on Sirius / XM the other day, I had a revelation. The music featured on the station, in many cases, is also featured on many of the “Current Hit” stations both on satellite radio and your traditional local radio stations. The challenge this creates as a parent is differentiating between what is appropriate music for your 8-12 year old and what isn’t as the lines have become somewhat blurred. The songs featured on Disney now emulate and are often part of the mix with what can be some of the more adult themed music on your traditional pop stations leaving kids to think it’s all fair game which, for some parents, may be problematic.
OK OK. So at this point you’re probably saying, “whoa there fella, you’re starting to sound an awful lot like one of them snobbish, judgmental, overprotective, ultra-conservative parents we’ve all come to love making fun of.” First, I have a point which I’ll get to in a moment and second; I grew up yelling “My Dingaling,” singing “Little Willy” and blasting “The Telephone Man.” I’m sure even my grandparents sang “It’s really killin’ that he’s so willin’ to make whoopee” along with Sinatra (that heathen).
I also listened to my sister’s psychedelic rock vinyl from the 60’s that emitted some INSANE messages. By age nine I was dreaming of blowing off class to explore Itchycoo Park where I could be eight miles high in a purple haze. I was later introduced to the blues through amazing bands like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin who enjoyed loving people on an elevator and offering up every inch of that love. Really had no idea what it all meant to be honest with you. At that age I just thought the music was cool. But looking back, I would consider it a crime if I hadn’t had all that great music to explore.
More recently, I’ve begun introducing my kids to all kinds of great music from all genres and eras. Admittedly, from time to time I’ve had to do my best to avoid explaining what it means to have someone squeeze my lemons, kiss you all over, or push push in the bush. And for now a magic carpet ride is something Aladdin took from time to time. But I think it’s important to expose kids to all different styles of music and talk to them about the history and meaning behind a song as much as is appropriate for their ages. And to be clear, as you read this, know that my ex-wife and I continually communicate about the music our own kids are listening to and monitor it to ensure explicit lyrics, foul language and certain topics are avoided and banned from i-pods all together. We’re open, but let’s be real here. There are limits.
Anyway; I was 12 when David Naughton came out with the song “Makin’ It.” I remember sitting in the car with my mom. We were driving through a plaza in West Seneca, NY listening to the radio when it came on. I started singing along and she turned the station. “Why’d you do that?” I inquired. “That song is inappropriate for you!” she explained. “Why?” I asked. “Nevermind,” she implored. “You don’t know what it means.” I did actually. The song was the theme to a sitcom by the same name and was about overcoming the odds and being successful despite your short comings. My mom obviously thought it meant something completely different but didn’t bother to ask.
But we’re getting off track a bit. This isn’t an essay on the pros / cons of rock music. (Well maybe just a little). But I’ve never believed there to be a danger in listening to any kind of music. I actually think the real danger is not listening to enough. Music is magic. The more you listen to the more it broadens your creative senses and ability to paint mental pictures.The music your kids are listening to is something they’ll carry with them the rest of their lives. But it probably won’t influence them the way you think it will. I myself still have my “Itchycoo Park” 45, but despite listening to it 1,423,334 times, I never ‘got high.’ That just wasn’t my scene man.
But back to the point of the whole Disney / Today’s hit music issue and what our kids are listening to. The more I thought about it the more I realized it wasn’t necessarily about the lyrics themselves. For me personally, being aware of what your kids are listening to is more about opportunities to demonstrate to your kids that you’re paying attention and that you care about how the world affects them. With i-tunes, mp3 players, Pandora, Spotify, etc. all so easily accessible to kids in a more intimate and private way, it’s all that more difficult to know what your children are being exposed to. When it comes to music, let’s be honest, like us 20 or 30 years ago, half the time they have no idea what the lyric really means. I had no idea why Alice was small. Sure sounded like fun though. Almost as much as it would be to join Lucy in the sky with diamonds.
As I’ve mentioned, I think I’ve come to the point where I believe this is less about the lyric and more about the opportunities they present for a dad (or mom). Whether your kids and their friends are currently singing about the joys of being “Higher Than A Mother f-!#% r” or trying to get boys to show them their “Peacock Cock Cock,” as a parent you have an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to your kid that you’re paying attention. If there’s any question, have them go on line and print out the lyrics to a song that may be a concern. Talk about it, discuss the potential issues with them. Explain to them why something may or may not be appropriate. If they hear a song that has lyrics that are degrading to women, it’s a great opportunity to explain why it’s offensive. And find out what THEY think it means. Some valuable insights to be mined are just waiting for you. Build some boundries if you want or don’t. It’s really up to you not the Harper Valley PTA. But the bottom line is, what better way to let them know that A. you’re listening and B. you care.