My mother spent her formative years in a convent boarding school in India where, when it came to popular music, anything other than Pat Boone was off limits. When I was a tween, my mom allowed me to buy Madonna's first album, but "Like a Virgin" was not allowed in our house -- not appropriate for a young girl, my mom decided -- and Heavy Metal was deemed "too disruptive." (The Grateful Dead was OK, because it was mellow; I don't think she was aware of exactly how mellow, but my brothers, who were major fans, certainly weren't going to point that out.)
Now that I'm the parent, I find myself wishing that the line between "acceptable" and "not-acceptable" music was as easy to find. Lyrics and album covers are one thing, but what stars do in their personal lives is part of the daily news cycle now -- by allowing your child to listen to their music, are you condoning the artists' behavior? With iPods to fill and song samples available for free online and even on your phone, it's much more difficult to monitor what your kids are listening to these days -- how do you help them decide what to buy when it's so easy to leave the parents out of the decision making process?
At U.S. News, Mary Kate Cary solves the problem at her house with a "do not buy" list. "I can't stop them from listening to all rap music, or all hip-hop, or even all pop music. Much of it is fine. Plus, offensive music is everywhere -- friends' houses, on the radio in the carpool, even at the ice-skating rink," she points out. "But I can say we're not going to support certain artists financially, even if it's only 99 cents at a time, by purchasing ring-tones and iTunes of their songs. They don't have to ask permission before every song, but my husband and I reserve the right to audit their iTunes list at any time."
Our 15-year-old and 13-year-old daughters' iPods are filled with bubblegum pop like The Jonas Brothers, Country/Western faves from their Mom's collection, and some eclectic selections from their Dad, who used to be a music critic. Our 4- and 2-year-olds are easy -- they listen to what we give them (I have a running list of kids' music that won't make my ears bleed). Our 10-year-old is the one who really needs monitoring; he loves to listen to music clips online, where it's far too easy to segue from standing under Rihanna's "Umbrella" to rolling with Li'l Wayne.
How do you keep an eye -- or, rather, an ear -- on what your kids are hearing? Do they have to run their song choices by you first? Do you have veto power over what they download from iTunes? What's on your own "Do Not Buy" list?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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