Should we censor our kids' music?

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  April 17, 2012 06:00 AM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Barbara,
When it comes to censorship in music do you think it should be allowed?

From: Tweak, Mason City, Iowa


Hi Tweak,

If you are laissez-faire, if you just let your child listen to or watch whatever he or she wants, whatever is available on screens or ear buds, that's equivalent to saying, "I approve." In other words, by saying nothing, you say a lot. Laissez-faire ends up translating to, "As long as I don't see or hear it, it's OK." And these days, we rarely do hear what they are listening to so it's kind of easy to pretend it's not a problem.

It is. Music lyrics (and yes, rap is music) are rife with four-letter words, messages of women as objects and men as tools, with the glamorization of violence and with sexist, racist and homophobic themes. I do not endorse any of that nor do I think those messages are appropriate for children. But as I wrote in my book, kids, especially preteens and younger, typically do not listen to music for the words. They listen for, well, the music.

To answer your question directly, I don't believe in censorship. But I believe strongly in paying attention. I believe in not being a hypocrite and in weighing in with your kids and in trying to get them to evaluate what they are listening to. I don't believe in making statements like this one, which I clearly remember my mother saying to me: "This isn't music. It's noise." She was talking about the Beatles.

Some of this is developmental. That your preteen is listening to music whose lyrics worry you is a sign that he's trying to separate from you. As soon as you censor it, he'll want it more. Finding ways to get access without your knowledge is easy to do.

Of course, getting your kid to sit down and listen to the lyrics with you is hard to accomplish. When you point out how awful the lyrics are, and even if he listens and realizes you are right, all you accomplish is that he's now defensive and angry and feels you don't understand him. Here's my other problem with censorship: It's akin to saying that it's OK to control access to information.

So what I opt for, and what most professionals recommend, is getting a dialogue going with your preteen or teen. Again, stealing from my own book, I tell about a psychologist who worked out a deal with his 11-year-old son. Whenever the son purchased music, he would give it to his father to listen to that night. The next day, they would compare notes on everything from the beat to the lyrics. When ]the son] liked a song ]the dad] didn't, the dad will ask, "What is it about this that makes you like it?" When the lyrics are particularly offensive to the dad, he might say, "What do you think about what this says about blacks/gays/women?"

In the book, I wrote, "Tom is often surprised by Andy's answers but he keeps his responses neutral in tone. The dialogue has become comfortable enough for Andy that he even revealed to his dad that there are some groups he only pretends to like because his friends like them."

Some of us might find Tom's approach an obnoxious chore. Obviously, he didn't. The point is that by opening a dialogue, you open your child's mind. When you censor, you shut it down.

Here's another strategy from Tom, by the way. He never paid for Andy's music. He would tell his son: "My conscience doesn't let me give you the money to buy music from a group with values so opposite to mine. But I can't stop you from spending your own money on it."

Readers, I'd love to hear how you deal with this issue.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

9 comments so far...
  1. "Own money" - Interesting concept - "Own money" - Don't most under 16 kids get their "own money" through the gifts of family? They wouldn't have this money except for the family relashionship.

    Even with most of the over 16 year olds, their earned money is subsidized by the parent's contribution (car rides to and from jobs, extra insurance on the car used).

    So in our family, no one is allowed to buy music that demeans women, glorifies the gangsta life, or uses the "n" word. Even with their "own money".

    Posted by Lain April 17, 12 08:44 AM
  1. I love this advice, I just can't believe it came from the same person who has advocated censorship so many times before, most recently for the movie "Hunger Games" just a few weeks ago.

    Posted by geocool April 17, 12 10:55 AM
  1. I have a 12 year old girl, who is mature for her age. We listen to the music together, when we are driving places. (I can't really escape the "kids" music, as she is a gymnast; I watch the team often, and the gym plays that kind of music all the time - altho' to the gym's credit they always use the bleeped versions and keep out the offensive songs intentionally).

    Instead of banning it, we talk. Alot. We talk a lot about the "why" - every time I hear something I don't approve of, or that is disturbing or, even just irritating. We look up the lyrics. We discuss why the subject should be discussed. We talk about why it is so "catchy" - discuss music from the technical point of view - why a "hook" phrase or tune works. True, she occasionally can't help but roll her eyes - she is a teen - but mostly she has interesting input and now - occasionally when a song comes on that we've discussed, she'll turn the channel, and say something like - "I don't like that one now". And sometimes, she'll say, "I don't like what they're saying, but I like the sound of the song, can I leave it on?". Then I get to roll my eyes, and say, "OK. but you know why I don't like the words, right?" and she'll grin and say, "I know, I know. I got it."
    And I know she does have it. She's not stupid.
    But she does live in the real world - and this music is everywhere - and now she will have the brains and armor to think about what it is saying and to work out the meanings and to sort out what is right and wrong with it, and when she can't work it out, I know she'll come to me with questions.
    And we'll talk about it.

    Posted by An Acton Mom April 17, 12 10:17 PM
  1. geocool, I don't think Barbara advocated censorship for the Hunger Games, just judicious parental supervision of children that are younger than the intended audience.

    Posted by mph April 17, 12 11:11 PM
  1. I just want to say that I LOVE the approach taken by "An Acton Mom". I take a similar approach with my kids. It's also what we do about many TV shows and movies - there are plenty of objectionable things that happen on so-called kids shows, and it's a great opening to talk about stuff.

    Posted by akmom April 18, 12 10:40 AM
  1. I always think when you forbid something, you make it more tempting. Also, if you forbid it, your kid is just going to do it at someone else's house which means you can't monitor it or discuss it. Of course this greatly depends on your child's age. I don't think you can really "censor" a 15 year old unless you aren't going to let them out of the house.

    To Lain, my daughters both have jobs outside our home (tutoring, babysitting, camp counselor). I consider what they earn their own money.

    For the record, I saw the Hunger Games and I'm amazed its a book for 11 year olds. It was pretty violent and graphic, especially the first scene of the actual fight. The themes are pretty sophisticated.

    Posted by ash April 18, 12 11:26 AM
  1. mph, did you even read the column that day? Barbara explicitly said that "children under 13 are not developmentally capable of handling the scenes this move presents," and any parent who thinks they are should reconsider. That column had none of the wisdom of this one, with no mention of "getting a dialogue going" or even seeing the film yourself. Today's advice is excellent and stands in stark contrast to the March 23rd advice.

    Posted by geocool April 19, 12 12:04 PM
  1. Lain: can't you say that about any monetary gift or job, regardless of age? I don't think money earned by the teen who uses his/her parents' car is any less his/her "own" then the teen (or adult) who took the bus.

    My parents always listened to our music so they at least knew what we were listening to (and could discuss it). Like ash said, even if it isn't in your house, doesn't mean they won't hear it. On the other hand, that doesn't mean you have to listen to it in your house, but discussing with them why you don't like it is better than just telling them no, I think.

    Posted by m April 19, 12 01:16 PM
  1. I have four kids. Three teens and 1 tween. The two old kids (both boys) have some level of discerment and are open to discussions to why certain lyrics are "bad" or offfensive. With these kids, I can also tell them why I hate the classic "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to." and it's follow up "Turn to Cry." Both songs are so icky. And not a swear in it.

    My younger two are, sadly, complete media sheep, with less than stella grades. (5th and 6th graders) They spend way too much of their waking hours trying to look the part of cool and ignoring most of what is really important. So no, they don't get unfetted access to the internet or get to buy music celebrating the "gangsta" like. I didn't work so hard to get out of the hood for them to pretend that they live there and it is a cool place to be.

    Posted by Lain April 26, 12 10:56 AM
 
9 comments so far...
  1. "Own money" - Interesting concept - "Own money" - Don't most under 16 kids get their "own money" through the gifts of family? They wouldn't have this money except for the family relashionship.

    Even with most of the over 16 year olds, their earned money is subsidized by the parent's contribution (car rides to and from jobs, extra insurance on the car used).

    So in our family, no one is allowed to buy music that demeans women, glorifies the gangsta life, or uses the "n" word. Even with their "own money".

    Posted by Lain April 17, 12 08:44 AM
  1. I love this advice, I just can't believe it came from the same person who has advocated censorship so many times before, most recently for the movie "Hunger Games" just a few weeks ago.

    Posted by geocool April 17, 12 10:55 AM
  1. I have a 12 year old girl, who is mature for her age. We listen to the music together, when we are driving places. (I can't really escape the "kids" music, as she is a gymnast; I watch the team often, and the gym plays that kind of music all the time - altho' to the gym's credit they always use the bleeped versions and keep out the offensive songs intentionally).

    Instead of banning it, we talk. Alot. We talk a lot about the "why" - every time I hear something I don't approve of, or that is disturbing or, even just irritating. We look up the lyrics. We discuss why the subject should be discussed. We talk about why it is so "catchy" - discuss music from the technical point of view - why a "hook" phrase or tune works. True, she occasionally can't help but roll her eyes - she is a teen - but mostly she has interesting input and now - occasionally when a song comes on that we've discussed, she'll turn the channel, and say something like - "I don't like that one now". And sometimes, she'll say, "I don't like what they're saying, but I like the sound of the song, can I leave it on?". Then I get to roll my eyes, and say, "OK. but you know why I don't like the words, right?" and she'll grin and say, "I know, I know. I got it."
    And I know she does have it. She's not stupid.
    But she does live in the real world - and this music is everywhere - and now she will have the brains and armor to think about what it is saying and to work out the meanings and to sort out what is right and wrong with it, and when she can't work it out, I know she'll come to me with questions.
    And we'll talk about it.

    Posted by An Acton Mom April 17, 12 10:17 PM
  1. geocool, I don't think Barbara advocated censorship for the Hunger Games, just judicious parental supervision of children that are younger than the intended audience.

    Posted by mph April 17, 12 11:11 PM
  1. I just want to say that I LOVE the approach taken by "An Acton Mom". I take a similar approach with my kids. It's also what we do about many TV shows and movies - there are plenty of objectionable things that happen on so-called kids shows, and it's a great opening to talk about stuff.

    Posted by akmom April 18, 12 10:40 AM
  1. I always think when you forbid something, you make it more tempting. Also, if you forbid it, your kid is just going to do it at someone else's house which means you can't monitor it or discuss it. Of course this greatly depends on your child's age. I don't think you can really "censor" a 15 year old unless you aren't going to let them out of the house.

    To Lain, my daughters both have jobs outside our home (tutoring, babysitting, camp counselor). I consider what they earn their own money.

    For the record, I saw the Hunger Games and I'm amazed its a book for 11 year olds. It was pretty violent and graphic, especially the first scene of the actual fight. The themes are pretty sophisticated.

    Posted by ash April 18, 12 11:26 AM
  1. mph, did you even read the column that day? Barbara explicitly said that "children under 13 are not developmentally capable of handling the scenes this move presents," and any parent who thinks they are should reconsider. That column had none of the wisdom of this one, with no mention of "getting a dialogue going" or even seeing the film yourself. Today's advice is excellent and stands in stark contrast to the March 23rd advice.

    Posted by geocool April 19, 12 12:04 PM
  1. Lain: can't you say that about any monetary gift or job, regardless of age? I don't think money earned by the teen who uses his/her parents' car is any less his/her "own" then the teen (or adult) who took the bus.

    My parents always listened to our music so they at least knew what we were listening to (and could discuss it). Like ash said, even if it isn't in your house, doesn't mean they won't hear it. On the other hand, that doesn't mean you have to listen to it in your house, but discussing with them why you don't like it is better than just telling them no, I think.

    Posted by m April 19, 12 01:16 PM
  1. I have four kids. Three teens and 1 tween. The two old kids (both boys) have some level of discerment and are open to discussions to why certain lyrics are "bad" or offfensive. With these kids, I can also tell them why I hate the classic "It's my party and I'll cry if I want to." and it's follow up "Turn to Cry." Both songs are so icky. And not a swear in it.

    My younger two are, sadly, complete media sheep, with less than stella grades. (5th and 6th graders) They spend way too much of their waking hours trying to look the part of cool and ignoring most of what is really important. So no, they don't get unfetted access to the internet or get to buy music celebrating the "gangsta" like. I didn't work so hard to get out of the hood for them to pretend that they live there and it is a cool place to be.

    Posted by Lain April 26, 12 10:56 AM
add your comment
Required
Required (will not be published)

This blogger might want to review your comment before posting it.

About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

Submit a question for Barbara's Mailbag


Ask Barbara a question

Barbara answers questions on a wide range of topics, including autism, breastfeeding, bullying, discipline, divorce, kindergarten, potty training, sleep, tantrums, and much, much more.

Send your questions to her at:
meltzbarbara (at) gmail.com.
Please include your name and hometown.

Child in Mind

Moms
All parenting discussions
Discussions

High needs/fussy baby

memes98 writes "My 10.5 month old DS has been fussy ever since he was born, but I am getting very frustrated because I thought he would be much better by now...has anyone else been through this?"

More community voices

Child in Mind

Corner Kicks

Dirty Old Boston

Mortal Matters

On Deck

TEDx Beacon Street

RSS feed


click here to subscribe to
Child Caring

archives