Question: I’m disturbed by some of the performers my teenager listens to. How do we set a fair and reasonable music standard?


This is no easy undertaking, but it is necessary and extremely important. Your teen needs to understand the values, standards and moral guidelines that define your family’s beliefs and govern life under your roof. A frank discussion of music and entertainment choices can provide you with the perfect opportunity to broach this subject and lay some of these issues on the table.

We suggest that you sit down with your teen and speak candidly about your concerns. Try to do this in a non-threatening way. Enter into the conversation with an attitude that encourages rather than squelches communication. Don’t lecture, blame or condemn. Don’t be too hard on anybody, including yourself. Be patient and ready to listen. And remember that there’s something more important at stake here than mere entertainment choices – namely, your long-term relationship with your teen. You don’t want to make your case about music at the cost of alienating your child.

Listen first; respond calmly

When you’ve taken time to hear what she’s thinking, state your own position as calmly and carefully as possible. Here are a few talking points you’ll want to include. First, as a parent, you have the right to limit what comes into your home (whether it’s played openly or on headphones). This includes screening radio stations. Don’t get sidetracked by arguments about "privacy" or "rights." As a dependent minor living under your guardianship, your teenager’s "rights" are subject to limitations.

Next, state clearly what’s in and out of bounds, and be sure to explain why. This may require some in-depth research on your part. Be careful to focus on lyrics rather than musical style. You’re entitled to your own biases – for example, you may not like rap or hip hop – but the standard you articulate should reflect content rather than stylistic preferences. Take time to read song lyrics together and discuss them before making your final decisions.

Putting a plan in place

Once you’ve established a standard, take pains to communicate it in plain, understandable English. Put it in writing if you think this might be helpful. In the beginning, you may want to pre-approve music purchases until you think your teen understands and has had a chance to internalize the criteria. Be ready to return CDs that don’t measure up (many music stores allow this). Later on, if your child buys a CD that fails the test, she’ll be faced with the tough choice of exchanging it or simply losing the cash.

Some of the music acquired prior to your setting the household standard could be handled as negotiable – as a gesture of good faith, you might opt to replace those CDs with approved discs or buy them back at a depreciated rate. This can be a difficult part of the process for both of you, so be patient and keep the lines of communication open.

Help your child to make good choices

Finally, realize your limitations. You aren’t going to be able to re-shape your child’s entire music diet. You can’t be with her everywhere she goes, and you certainly aren’t in a position to dictate her likes and dislikes. So try to focus on those portions of her environment that you can control: your home and your car. The goal is to teach discernment, not enforce a legalistic code. Like every other task a parent undertakes, this one should be approached with patience, understanding and love.

Excerpted from Growing Pains: Advice for Parents of Teens. © 1999 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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