My son and I were in our car and the radio was tuned to the local Christian radio station. At the time, my son was 13 and a fan of rap and grunge?a chord-heavy sound made popular by a band called Nirvana. While I don't remember the name of the song playing, I do know the band was Petra, a decades-old act that helped put Christian rock on the musical map.
Suddenly my son blurted out, "Dad, I don't get it!"
I was pretty sure he wasn't talking about lyrical content. He'd been in Bible school all his life, and he'd made a profession of faith when he was 8. He never missed youth group or a church retreat. But something about the music just didn't click.
"What don't you get?" I asked.
"The sound. It's so old." Undoubtedly, my son's words capture a basic problem we parents face when attempting to talk to our kids about music: They don't get our music and we certainly don't get theirs. It's not a new problem. Just think back to your own teen years. In those golden oldie days, you may have enjoyed tunes from The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Bee Gees, Eagles, Billy Joel, or Bruce Springsteen. Of course, our parents and other "old people" over 30 didn't get it. I remember the barber in my hometown saying, "You call that music? This stuff you kids listen to sounds like somebody's in a dentist's chair screaming!"
But there's more to the musical question than a generation gap. There are good reasons to be concerned about popular tunes, like the raunchy, violence-laced (and best-selling) rap of Eminem. Even less-offensive music, like the dance pop of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, comes packaged with sensual-sounding lyrics and sexy video and teen-magazine images. No wonder we're more than a little concerned.
It's tempting to keep your radio tuned forever to the local Christian radio station?especially the one with the good old-fashioned inspirational sound, or at least the one with the more tolerable soft pop format. But there's no guarantee your kids will follow suit. There is an incredible variety of music for kids to listen to and a dizzying array of artists for them to idolize. The best way to help your kids make choices that reflect your family values is to open the lines of communication about their music. Here are seven ways to do just that:
1. Try to relax and talk with your teen about his music. If you express your distaste for your teen's music in anger or in a panic, you'll no doubt say and do things you'll regret. Try to find out why he likes a particular band or song. The point is not to lecture your child on the evils of his or her music, but to help you understand your son or daughter a little better. Let's say, for instance, your teen likes angry-sounding bands like Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Slipknot. While they are often morally offensive, bands like these may actually be an outlet for your teen's own angry and confused feelings. If nothing else, your discussion may offer you a tiny glimpse into your teen's world.
2. Realize you're not supposed to "get it." Teenagers' music is just one way they seek to demonstrate their growing need for independence. They don't want to listen to your music, and they may not like you listening to theirs.
3. Be as tolerant of the "noise" as possible. I am not saying you should tolerate offensive lyrical content like that put out by Eminem, who raps about raping and killing his mother. But as you talk with your child, keep your concerns focused on content rather than on musical style.
4. Educate yourself. Pick up Campus Life magazine and flip to a regular feature called "We Recommend." It's a chart that offers Christian alternatives to secular sounds. I also write a column for the magazine called "Tell Me About It," where I answer teens' questions about mainstream artists. The artists I've covered include Blink 182, Eminem, Creed, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera (to subscribe, go to www.campuslife.net).
I'd also encourage you to subscribe to Plugged In. This Focus on the Family publication offers information on current trends in all media, including insights into the latest in mainstream music (to subscribe, call 800-A-FAMILY).
In my research, I've found band and artist Web sites helpful. You'll find Web addresses listed on an artist's CD cases, or you can search online for the artist's name. Go to the site and read a little about the artist, or look up song lyrics that concern you. If you don't have access to the Web, drop by the local library and skim issues of Rolling Stone or Spin magazine looking for articles about artists your son or daughter is listening to. I'd also encourage you to watch some of the music video shows on VH1 and MTV to get an idea of who's popular and what kinds of messages these artists are promoting.
5. Seek out alternatives your teens will get. Along with familiarizing yourself with different styles of music, the Campus Life features I mentioned earlier will also give you plenty of alternatives for your music-loving teen. You can also look at the chart, "Hip Alternatives to Today's Pop Music" for some great ideas.
Whenever possible, pick up compilation or "sampler" CDs in the genre that's of interest to your teen. Rap (also called hip-hop) is a style that has recently generated two good Christian compilation CDs: Fashion Expo Round One: Tru Hip-Hop from Syntax Records and Coalition: The Hip-Hop Alliance from ForeFront Records. Since sampler CDs often feature a variety of styles (yes, there are styles within styles?even in rap music), your teen gets a chance to try out a lot of different artists. If your son or daughter is drawn to a particular artist's music, you can then try to find that artist's full CD.
6. Set fair boundaries you and your teen can live with. When it comes to music, you and your teen will continue to have disagreements and arguments. Even so, I encourage you to sit down with your child and discuss what can and cannot be tolerated. Of course, this will vary from household to household, so be clear on what's acceptable and what's not in your home.
During this discussion, be sure to explain why you're concerned about a particular artist. Allow your son or daughter to be an active participant in the decision-making process. When you have this sort of open, give-and-take discussion, you may be amazed at how reasonable your teen can be.
Belligerence and inflexibility can melt into clear thinking and compromise when teens know they're being listened to and when respect is shown for their comments and ideas.
7. Remember, this too shall pass. One final bit of advice that may give you a little hope and perspective: Realize your son or daughter's current musical phase will undoubtedly pass. Pop music is called pop music for that very reason?what your teen views as popular today will most likely be unpopular tomorrow. Then one day, not too far into the future, your very grown-up child may confess: "I listened to that? I don't get it!" You can simply smile knowingly and not say a word.
Chris Lutes is the editor of Campus Life magazine and the father of two teenage boys and a dalmatian.
Copyright © 2001 by the author or Christianity Today/Christian Parenting Today Magazine.
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