I was maybe 11-years-old and on a weekend road trip with my mother, my sister, and a neighborhood mother and her children. We were all piled into the backseat and cargo hold of the station wagon (horrendously unsafe, but quite the norm for the time) and I, very innocently, began singing a very catchy song I had heard a handful of times on the radio – “Jet Boy, Jet Girl” by Captain Sensible. Reflecting upon the song now, as an adult, it is not so much overtly profane as it is somewhat disturbing in subject matter. The refrain of the song, which sounded relatively abstract and innocent to a pre-adolescent, is “he gives me head.” This was something I don’t even think I bothered trying to interpret, but upon singing it at the top of my lungs in a car crammed with other children – well I was firmly shut down by the adults in the car…and for good reason.
These kinds of stories no doubt exist dating back at least to the 1920s with Sophie Tucker’s “He Hadn’t Up Till Yesterday” and stretch into contemporary pop music with Lil Wayne. The fact is children and teens alike almost naturally gravitate to music (and art forms) that exploit themes of violence and sexuality, and there exists a vital market to exploit that desire as well. In the past, parents have had some modicum of control over what their child listens to, or are exposed to, but that luxury has largely disappeared. With the internet and smart phones, virtually any kind of music (for better or for worse) is easily available to any inquiring mind looking for a bit of enlightenment. Parents used to be able to riffle through CDs and LPs looking for Sex Pistols or Too Live Crew media, but these days even a glance at an iPhone playlist won’t yield too much of an understanding of what exactly kids are being exposed to. And from the parental perspective, the task of monitoring what questionable music your child is exposed to has become even more challenging, as buying is no longer requisite, and streaming all manner of music is almost more the norm. In essence, the barn doors are open and the glock-wielding, pelvic-gyrating, animals are on the loose.
I guess the question would be, is this a problem? For parents that find an irrefutable link between what children listen to and how they interact with the world, that would be a yes. Many parents and child advocacy groups believe early exposure to explicit material leads to aberrant or deviant behavior among children. But this link, while often exploited for sensational reasons, has yet to be proven. Certainly no one would advocate sitting your 6-year-old down for a casual listening to a DMX release, but is shielding children always the answer? This type of music, whether sexual or violent, is largely narrative fantasy and remains highly seductive to adolescents and teens, but not always that impactful on impressionable minds. Where do you draw the line? Do you have a particular objection to sexual explicit material over explicitly violent lyrics? Should children be shielded or guided through such media? Do you talk with your children about what they are listening to, that is, if you know what they are listening to?