"http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-transitional.dtd"> urbanMamas

Kids & Lyrics: do they know what they're singing?

*thump, thump, thump* are common sounds coming from my daughters' room.  Aged 7 and 10, they love to listen to music and dance along.  It's not unusual for me to walk into their room, find each one standing on their bed, hips swinging, Z100 blaring, and them singing Katy Perry: "Let's go all the way tonight, no regrets, just love....."

If I didn't pay attention to the words, I would think it was so cute.  And, I do.  But, is there something wrong with these girls uttering these words?  Another favorite song references "boys trying to touch my junk, junk".   Gone of the days singing about the moon or rain boots, a la Laurie Berkner.

We are a music-loving family.  There is always something playing in the background.  We don't want to deprive the kids of listening to new songs, pop music.  But, do we have to censor?  The content is just troubling, and - with two young girls - I am always concerned about female stereotypes and demeaning depiction of women and girls.  Do we have to come up with playlists of only approved songs?  Would that limit us to just a few selections?  What are safe, wholesome, but fun & upbeat artists, go-to songs or even radio stations that you'd let your [pre-tween] kids listen to? 


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I remember when I was a 3rd grader, someone brought in Pat Benetar's "Let's Get Physical" for us to listen to during free time - the teacher had told us it was okay to bring music in. She was absolutely scandalized by that song and we honestly had NO idea that it was about anything besides getting sweaty doing aerobics. I think her reaction made us think of things we never would have on our own. Same with the song "Come on Eileen". That came out when I was in 4th grade and everyone sang it to me from that point on - to this day really. I think it was maybe just last year that I realized that it's really a dirty song. I had always thought it was just about a guy trying to get a girl named Eileen to come hang out because he thought she was really cute.

For some reason I remember Olivia Newton John singing that song.

I was in 4th grade when "Push It" by Salt N Pepa was popular. We all knew it was making a dirty reference, but really, who cares? We just liked the song. Unless you ban the radio there's no getting around the lurid content, and kids will really only process stuff in according to their age anyway. I'd be more worried if the kids were watching music videos all day, because the girls might pick up on body image cues and whatnot, but censoring music is a fool's errand in my opinion. What you instill in them about attitudes toward sex and sexuality will matter a lot more in the long term.

I've managed to dodge this bullet so far because my boys (8 and 11) aren't much interested in contemporary pop music. I attribute this to the fact that we have cultivated a love of old-time music and the Beatles, big-time. The fab four pretty much rule in our house. The sexual references are less explicit - but of course they're present. After listening for a couple of weeks to my 11yo play his guitar and sing "and when I get home to you/I find the things that you do/will make me feel all right," I got curious.

"What do you think he means by 'the things that you do'?" I inquired one day.

My son took on a worldly look. "He probably means he's going to have sex with his wife when he gets home," he told me.

"Ah. You don't think maybe he's thinking she'll cook him a nice meal?"

He rolled his eyes.

On the other hand, the kid has absolutely no clue about what sort of happiness would be associated with the possession of a warm gun. He thinks that song's about an outlaw.

I agree with Anna that kids process this stuff in their own way, as they develop and that the values we give them about sexuality will make much more of an impact. That said, if my boys were to start listening to some of the really blatant misogynistic stuff out there, I would not be happy. There would definitely be conversations about those lyrics.

So far though, most of my conversations about the kids' music revolves around such puzzling matters as why Gideon left his Bible in Rocky Raccoon's hotel room and what's up with Paul and that walrus, anyway.

Anon, you're right: 'Let's Get Physical' was by Olivia Newton John. And there was a joke about 'Come on Eileen' that went, Q: "What's worse than sweat on Olivia Newton John?" A: "Come on Eileen." But I don't think that's what the song was about. Like you said, it was "about a guy trying to get a girl named Eileen to come hang out because he thought she was really cute."

We don't censor much with our five and eight year old. They listen to what we listen to: punk, 90s rock, hip hop, and a whole variety of alternative music. The only exceptions are some of the explicit hip hop songs and a few Misfits songs that are just too scary. I came of age with Madonna's Like a Virgin and had no idea what her songs really meant. Earlier than that, it was the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac in my parent's house. I can't see trying to figure out a "safe" playlist for my kids outside of the music we like, but I am sort of mortified though when my five year old sings, "If you wanna be my lover" from the Spice Girls.

Just like the comments above, I do not think these sorts of things will warp our girls. I remember being young and singing along with all kinds of songs - some of them I knew they were implying SOMETHING but most I had no clue. It was just fu music. And as far as it communicating a demeaning view of women, that's all in the way we raise our girls, not in the songs they choose to lip-sync to...

This is why, when my kids want to jump around and dance to their boombox,it's rarely the radio they're listening to. I find cds-for example, have you heard the soundtrack to Despicable Me? Its fun music that's safe. Radio is terrible for kids to listen to sometimes. It's almost equivalent to primetime tv.

There are lots of songs out there that - to me - are more and more explicit about sexual exploration. It's not just about "getting physical", it's about getting licked up and down, boys going down on girls, girls going down on boys, liking it like that, boys making girls wet (everything is so heterosexist, to be sure), wanting to make your body scream. It is just A LOT of information, it is graphic and I am not necessarily going to explain plainly to my children the ins and outs of oral sex.

To be sure, this is an age-old question: parents questioning the music of the new generation. I loved "push it" and lots of other songs that were suggestive. I think that today's music is more than suggestive.

I am very sensitive to media representation of women. I think it all plays a part. What pop stars wear, how they look, how they carry themselves - I think that it plays a part in how our girls see themselves as part of the rest of society. I am particularly sensitive to the lack of girls of color in the media, as a non-white mom raising non-white girls. There is an affect on a girls self esteem (wondering: am I "ugly" or "less desirable" if I don't look like everyone else in the media?). It's not just the lyrics, I guess, but also everything that goes with it.

I think the music of my youth was a lot more subtle than some of the stuff I hear today. That said, I think most kids have no idea what they're really singing about.

Of course, I have a 4-year-old who adores Bob Marley and really, really wants to understand what a Buffalo Soldier is, and why they were stolen from Africa. Good teaching moment? But how much do you teach a 4-year-old who's already struggling with fears of monsters, strangers, and germs? *sigh*

"What are safe, wholesome, but fun & upbeat artists, go-to songs or even radio stations that you'd let your [pre-tween] kids listen to?"

How about Michael Franti & Spearhead? Danceable, upbeat, respectful, catchy.

I'm right there with you, Olivia. My two oldest (8.5 and 11) have been interested in some of the latest pop music and some of the lyrics make *me* blush (and I ain't no prude!)...

We've come to a compromise by sitting down at the computer and listening on YouTube to many of the songs they like...(and if you think the lyrics are bad, good god, those videos...yikes!) Our agreement is that I will be open minded and they will trust me when I suggest that the message is inappropriate. Of course I explain why I think it's not gonna fly and they get it. And, they don't want to feel uncomfortable singing things that might be construed by others as too racy.

The messages I am concerned about are just those you mention...ones that demean women & healthy relationships and that glorify cultures of drugs and violence.

I think of it not so much censoring as making thoughtful, informed choices. Thanks for bringing up this topic....now if only the pop music didn't make my ears bleed :)

First I must say that I'm no prude but that I DO censor... in the fact that we don't listen to "Top 40"....We listen to KINK (101.9) and NPR (91.5) in the car and I have great Pandora stations for every occasion and age group. It's not so much the music that I'm trying to censor (although some of it is truly awful) it's the DJ's commentary...especially in the commuter hours 7-9am and 4-6pm... lots of misogyny, talking about excessive drinking etc.. I find humor in some of it when I'm by myself but I don't think my 12 year old needs to have these things normalized, ya know?

As far as great artists the whole family can get into? MC Yogi is fun for kids to listen to and we really like Taj Mahal, Beatles, Josh Ritter, Allison Krauss and Pearl Jam stations on PANDORA (to name a few) for background music...

When I heard the joke in junior high, it was "What's worse then 'Piss on the Wall' (J. Geils song)?" and the answer was "Come on Eilene."

We are a Beatles family, and we only listen to CDs, just the same as we only watch DVDs or videos, and not commercial television. It gives choice back to the parents. However, I agree that some Beatles songs can be racy..."Why don't we do it in the road? No one will be watching us...," and "I want you (she's so heavy)," to name a couple...

Wow, i think its interesting that there were Initially so many comments of non-concern about music until i spoke up about being concerned. I wonder if people are worried about coming across as a helicopter parent and so won't speak out about something if they think their opinion is unpopular.

I personally think there is a fine line between innuendo and "stick my fingers inside every inch of you" .. as heard in one song popular some years ago. We don't do live radio in the car.. all the Dj's carry on like every woman must be thin and every man must have a thin, hot woman and hot car. Jeez.

But, we do live in a real world. My kids didn't really understand until they were 10 or so. I do draw the line at stuff that calls women the b word or sings about them women getting "owned".

@jln: I'm not sure what helicopter parenting has to do with it, but perhaps not everyone checks this blog daily. Olivia's clarification probably had something to do with it. I, for one, don't care if my opinion is unpopular. cheers.

My 4th and 2nd graders (a boy and a girl) have no clue who Katy Perry is. We just aren't into pop or radio music as a family. We don't watch much TV either. They listen to their dad's bluegrass/banjo/guitar music, a lot of soundtracks (Harry Potter, etc) and some random stuff that we put on sometimes. None of it is rude or crude, not because we are helicoptering but because we just aren't into it. I'm sure there will come a day when they get more exposure from friends but we aren't there yet.

I'd say music these days is much more explicit than it was I when I was a tween or teen. I don't think that is a great thing.

I had an "ah-hah" moment recently about the bias that we each have when choosing what to censor for our children when my husband complained about my bringing home US gossip magazines cause he didn't want the girls looking at all those pictures. He somehow hasn't objected to the women dressed in bikinis while men are in suits on the Spanish-language TV station that he favors. And, I'm the one that has had to enforce some limitation on what level of violence/etc that our preschooler sees in movies. But when it comes down to it we don't really limit what our children see and hear...how can we when real life is so much more present? Most recently I've had to explain a family member's divorce due to domestic violence.

Pop music is meaningless and hedonistic in nature. Carefully monitored rock music is better for raising children than Top 40. Top 40 these days is all about getting drunk and hooking up. Love is not really something mentioned much (partially because a large number of people have actually lost faith in the existence of love due to our high divorce rate and other things).

Here's a good contrast for you.

Pop music: Teenage Dream by Katy Perry: "Let's go all the way tonight, no regrets, just love."
Love Game by Lady Gaga: "I wanna take a ride on you're disco stick."
S and M by Rihanna: No lyrics required here.
Tick Tock by Kesha: "I brush my teeth with a bottle of jack..."

Rap music: No Love by Lil Wayne/Eminem: "F*** the world and get a child out of her..."
And many other sexual rap songs

Now, before I list some rock lyrics, let me mention that a lot of rock is sexual, but there is a ton more that isn't.

Rock music without sexual references:

Dust in the Wind (The Eagles) - no sexual references
Hotel California
Anything by Pink Floyd (except the song "Dirty Woman," on The Wall)
A lot of things by The Beatles (for example: I want to hold your hand - they had a lot of songs about just love, no sex involved)
A lot of songs by The Who
Stairway to Heaven
Iron Man - this one's darkish though
A lot of songs by Meatloaf

For newer songs:
Rope (Foo Fighters)
Walk (Foo Fighters)
Almost everything by the Foo Fighters
A lot of Nirvana's songs
Pretty much a lot of grunge in general
A lot of alternative music (mostly geared towards relationships, only some is sexual)

And you can never go wrong with instrumental music, especially if you want to foster an appreciation for music beyond the social value of lyrics.

"Let's go all the way tonight" is followed by the lies that it's about "love" and there will be "no regrets". The lie is blatant to an adult. But to a teen? Imagine the effect of having this lyric suggested to a three year old, then reminded all the way to 16. Does it give them a chance? A chance for a relationship based on love, not lust?

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment