If you are currently housing a teenager, my guess is those words, or a facsimile, have escaped your lips more than once. And you may have gasped as you realized that your parents said the same things to you, back in the day.
Then you’ll argue that even though that is true, today’s music is much worse; more sexual and angrier. So your criticisms are justified, right? Wrong! Let’s take a short stroll down memory lane to gain some historical perspective on this issue.
Back at the turn of the 20th century, parents became concerned about a new musical sound called ragtime. Much of their fear was over ragtime’s roots in the African- American community. Fast forward 20 years, and the new concern was over jazz, also with roots in the African-American community. Parents also flipped out over flappers, the Charleston and automobiles, which were decried from the pulpit as ‘houses of prostitution on wheels.’
Fast forward to the next generation in the ‘40s and ‘50s, when big band sounds carried the day. High school became compulsory, so teens of all economic backgrounds mixed together to form a more distinct teen culture. Upper and middle class teens started dressing and acting like working class teens; think James Dean, blue jeans and white undershirts. Teens were now dangerously dancing ‘cheek-to-cheek’ to Glenn Miller and Tommy Dorsey.
The ‘60s brought rock and roll, whose roots again were from the African-American community. Parents were freaked out by Elvis’ hips and those horrible Beatles. They even burned Beatles albums!
The past 30 years brought us disco, grunge, and eventually rap music. And despite it being 2010, some parents still fear this music’s African-American roots. Historically speaking, there have always been spikes of increased intensity with teen culture, usually in good economic times. Teens with discretionary income can afford to go to clubs, buy records, or, these days, buy the latest music technology. The more parents criticize the music, the more teens tend to cling to it. Forbidden fruit has been a problem since the beginning of time, literally!
My suggestion to parents is to listen to their teen’s music with them. Ask questions about why they like certain songs or groups. Oftentimes it’s the beat and ‘dancibility’ of the songs that’s most attractive, not the words or meaning. At my retreats, I love it when teens ask me to listen to their new favorite songs; it always teaches me something about them and what they might be thinking or feeling. Be curious and open and drop your judgments.
I, personally, don’t worry about the music teens listen to. What I do worry about is teens growing up in homes where their parents have a loveless marriage, or divorce—and about homes where everyone feels distracted and disconnected. I also worry about kids watching the less-than-ideal behavior of politicians, professional athletes and Wall Street executives. And I worry about kids who grow up in poverty and in homes with addictions and abuse. I hope these thoughts help put things in perspective.
“Turn that **#*—#** down! That music is awful! It sounds like a bad garage band!”
Dr. Tim Jordan is a behavioral pediatrician, international speaker and author. His counseling practice serves kids and teens, with a focus on girls in grade school through college. He and his wife, Anne, own Camp Weloki, which offers personal growth retreats and summer camps (weloki.com).