Without a doubt, whenever someone purchases my book, Candid Confessions of An Imperfect Parent at one of my parent workshops, I always see them turn straight to Chapter 6: Dad, Can I Download This Song? Parents are looking for ways to help their kids make good media decisions, and open dialogue is the answer.
I think it's a good sign when kids feel safe to talk with their parents freely about music. Today's "poets" share a lot of heart and feelings in their music, and kids often resonate with the messages shared. Whether we like it or not, our kids are inundated with these messages daily. Parents are smart to respond the same way the Apostle Paul did in Acts 17, and use these messages as "springboards" for discussion.
Don't get me wrong here, I'm not saying let your 12-year-old download all of Lil Wayne's music as long as you talk about it. It's okay for a parent to say, "Sorry, no." What I'm encouraging parents to do is have the conversation. Many parents just set a weak guideline like "Don't download anything explicit." This legalistic morality teaches our kids, "Cuss words are the only unacceptable element in music." Is cussing all you are worried about? What kind of content is in today's top songs? (Take a peek for yourself---Google some of the lyrics of the non-explicit songs in the top of the Billboard Hot 100 right now.) We need to have the conversation.
Consider these 3 tips to open the doors to conversations about music:
- Make it a dialogue, not a monologue. No kid wants to hear us pontificate about all our wisdom and experience with music and entertainment media. Ask questions. Asking questions transforms our lecturing into listening. And more importantly, asking questions puts the burden of thinking on them. Ask them to explain what they hear from the song and what they think it means. Ask them how they think most young people will respond to that message.
- Don't go on a witch-hunt looking for dirt. Approach music with an open mind. What is this song really communicating? What are young people truly taking away from this song? At the same time, realize our kids probably don't think the lyrics affect them. Experts would disagree. The Journal PEDIATRICS spells the research out clearly, the lyrics affect young people. So approach this conversation innocently and shrewdly (here's an example with Nicki Minaj).
- Give age appropriate trust. If your 12-year-old daughter wants to download Katy Perry's song, This is How We Do, then have her print out the lyrics so you can look at them together and you decide. If your 15-year-old wants to download it, maybe you don't require her to bring the lyrics to you, but ask her about the lyrics, ask her what she recommends and then you make the final decision. If your 17-year-old, however, wants to download it, talk about the song, tell her to make the choice and then tell you what she thinks of her choice a week later. This practice is often referred to as incremental independence.
Is the door open for these kinds of conversations in your house?