Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Growing a Critical Music Listener

(Note: I am not a parent, which should render what I'm about to say null and void; however, I think I know a thing or two about music, and I was a kid myself once -- and one whose parents did a pretty good job not limiting my exposure to certain media, but making sure I understood its implications.)

In a post for Jezebel, a father of a pre-teen daughter asks, "Can I keep my young daughter from singing along to Ke$ha?"
So I'm on a school tour the other day, and I notice on the walls of the 5th and 6th grade room that the students were asked to write lists of their favorite things. Food. Shows. Music. I noticed a lot of the girls listed a radio station I had never even heard of, and so on the way home I flipped to the channel and just about died.

Whoa. That singer just said what? Do parents actually let their kids listen to this?

It was a hip-hop, modern rap...ish station (oh sweet Jesus, I'm really an NPR nerd, aren't I?) and every other song was about drinking and sexting and going out clubbing. Not your typical edition of Fresh Air.
Short answer? No. It's next to impossible limit a child's access to media when she's going to be exposed to it at school, her friend's houses, or anywhere else it might slip through the cracks.

Granted, when I was growing up the internet was in its embryonic stage, we didn't have 600+ cable stations, and the most subversive material I could get my hands on came courtesy of the public library. The radio was a fixture at my house, and MTV was still new and fresh, but my parents didn't try to restrict or limit my exposure to music that other parents deemed "objectionable," instead they talked to me about it.

Radical, I know.

Here's an example: As a ten-year-old, the most shocking song on the airwaves was Madonna's "Like a Virgin." I don't know how much sense I made of it then (I'd like to my lyrical acumen was above-average for a fourth-grader), but because the song wasn't "off-limits," it held little mystery. The parents reaction to the song is crucial, too. My mom didn't act like it was too big a deal, but she sat me down and gave a rudimentary explanation of the song's lyrics (applicable to a little kid).

And for better or worse, I was groomed to be a music snob. Neither of my parents listened to contemporary pop music -- mostly country, blues or jazz -- so I didn't either. To be honest, I liked the pop music of their generation more than I liked the pop music of my own. One of the best lesson I got early on was that there are always other, and sometimes better, alternatives. Because I felt no pull toward top forty, a lot of its messages didn't reach me.

I don't have children, but I imagine I'd take the same approach: discuss the messages being sent and provide alternatives.

One more thing I'd like to add: the original post's author has a young daughter, but I don't think it can be stressed enough that sons need to be shown how to critically look at the messages that pop culture sends. Too often the onus is put on the mothers and daughters to look at ways women's bodies and minds are policed in the media, but boys need to be aware of it too.

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