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Listening to Offensive Music
Q: My son is 12 and a half years old. He's never been interested in music, but recently he's been asking that I allow him to get some CD's. However, what he wants contains a lot of cussing. I told him that he can choose whatever music he wants, as long as it does not contain any foul language or destructive message. But that's the only thing he wants. He tells me all of his friends are allowed to listen to that music. He tells me that I'm the "sissiest" Mom of his grade. He also tells me that if I don't let him buy the music, he'll download it from the Internet.
What should I do? Should I stand my point at the sake of my son being rejected by his peers? Or should I give in and let him access what I feel is not appropriate for him?
A: At your son's age, he wants very much to be "one of the guys." Peer approval and acceptance may seem to be all that matters to him as he pulls away from you and your parental influence. One of the best ways for him to do this is to embrace that which you deplore. That's why he's insisting on buying and listening to rap music, replete with derogatory and obscene lyrics and messages.
It's true that many of his peers are listening to this music. Tell him that, while you understand his need to be one of the guys, you cannot allow what you deem to be obscene and grossly derogatory messages and lyrics into your home. Explain that the messages in this music are antithetical to your values (e.g. respect for women) and just as you would not allow child pornography or hateful Nazi or KKK literature in your home, you cannot allow these affronts to your family's values, either.
If he pulls the old "You don't know what you're talking about. There's hardly anything wrong with these groups" line, then do your homework and get the lyrics to these groups' songs. Present your educated arguments to him with references in hand. His threat to "just download them from the Internet" should be met with something like "I hope you don't turn this into a cat-and-mouse game, because I would rather loan our computer to someone rather than enter into this power struggle with you."
Your son is resourceful. He'll listen to enough of this music on other kids' CD's to appear like he owns them as well. Of course, you know that, while you may tell him why you disapprove of him listening to this music, you cannot prevent him from listening to it outside your home.
I tell parents to pick their battles and I know many therapists would disagree with my telling you to "walk your talk" in this case. I think letting your kid know what messages you will allow in the sanctity of your home and why -- and sticking to that position -- is a moral lesson for your child, even as he kicks and screams that you are ruining his life. Thanks for writing.
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Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.