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What is That S#@t You’re Listening To?

What is That S#@t You’re Listening To?

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?

Read more: Children, Family, Love, Parenting at the Crossroads, Sex, Teens, , , , , ,

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.

57 comments

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7:39PM PST on Dec 5, 2013

Thank you.

7:39PM PST on Dec 5, 2013

Thank you.

12:39PM PDT on Apr 6, 2012

thank you.

8:57PM PDT on Apr 1, 2012

While I wouldn't necessarily buy trash music for kids, I don't think it harms them to listen to it, as they don't understand it. By the time they're old enough to know what it means, they're old enough that they're not going be influenced by it anyway. I remember watching the movie "Hocus Pocus" with my siblings, and we thought that "virgin" meant someone who didn't believe in Halloween because we were too young to know the difference. It works the same way with music. If they don't understand it, it's not going to have a bad effect on them.

11:51AM PDT on Mar 25, 2012

Wishing lots of luck to all parents! (No kids here.)

8:51AM PST on Nov 6, 2011

I have many stories about singing and dancing to music not really realizing what I was listening to. As an 8th grade cheerleader we actually did a routine for all to Donna Summers song Bad Girls. Years later I thought about that song and realized "Hey mister do you have a dime?" should have been a good clue that this was about hookers. :( Still makes me mad no one pointed this out to us before we performed for everyone :(

5:25AM PDT on Sep 29, 2011

Music nowadays is very sexual... most music videos are sexy and the lyrics are often about sex. I think it's awful, when I was a kid I listened to S Club 7, Steps, all of those late 90s bubblegum songs that were child-friendly... I also loved boybands like BSB, N*Sync, 5ive and they often sung about sex but... I don't know... maybe in that time the lyrics were more 'subtle' about it as I didn't really have a clue what they were singing about!... And their videos were clean. That isn't the case now. Now everything is sexualised... I don't know why this is... Music now is aimed at my generation, people that go clubbing... it's about dancing in a club, hot girls in clubs... I don't think that is good music for children!... If it's not a club song with a women in a bikini in the video, it's a song with Beyonce dancing in a suggestive way to suggestive lyrics, or a rapper talking about a girl's big bottom. I am not a mother but I do worry that this is what kids are listening to now. It's not child-friendly....

12:14PM PDT on Sep 25, 2011

It is very hard to control what kids listen to but it is very easy to talk to kids about what they hear and try to explain that the music does not always reflect real life.

1:10PM PDT on Sep 21, 2011

Every generation has music that most parents hate!
I remember playing certain 45's on 331/3 to hear supposedly "raunchy" lyrics. And wasn't there a Beatles song played backward that supposedly said, "Paul is Dead"?

My parents, who really had pretty cool taste in various types of music, thought the early Beatles' songs were the worst thing they had ever heard! As I got older, surprisingly (maybe not) there was music we all liked. I thank my parents for exposing us to many genres of music, and now, as a 62 year old, I can enjoy just about anything! (Except vulgar rap and heavy metal)

7:31PM PDT on Sep 20, 2011

Censorship by the government of artistic expression is, to my mind, wrong. Censorship of children's viewing/listening habits by parents, however, is simply good parenting. What we adults can correctly interpret and evaluate children simply absorb without real understanding.

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