My 16- year- old daughter and I were tooling down the highway, listening to the Hits station on Sirius radio. The song playing had a good beat. The tune had us neck dancing, and my mood was improving.
Until I listened to the words.
I turned to my daughter, a shocked look on my face. She responded: “I was surprised you liked the song so much.”
The tune playing was the partially-censored version of Cee Lo Green’s “Forget You.” Evidently, there are three versions. The uncensored, the semi-censored and the fully-censored version in which Mr. Green sings the words, “Forget You,” instead of the letters or words that are inappropriate for this forum.
I felt betrayed.
How could the sentiment of such a sweet-sounding, upbeat song be so unnecessarily profane? I really wanted to sing along.
In 1970, I sang “Why do birds suddenly appear every time you are near?” along with Karen Carpenter on her number 1 hit “Close to You.”
Today’s teens sing, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but chains and whips excite me,” along with Rihanna on her current number 2 hit, “S & M.”
When I was a teen, I thought S&M was a new brand of Green Stamp.
I began hearing Mr. Green’s song everywhere: on the Grammys, on “Glee” and on the radio. Even though the censored “Forget You” version is usually played, I can’t get the partially-censored version out of my mind.
Beethoven said, “Music can change the world.” If this is true, can today’s music, filled with explicit lyrics promoting violence, racism, sex, hatred and drug abuse adversely change the behavior of our impressionable adolescents who are at the age when music is extremely important? Do these types of lyrics desensitize our teens to violence and antisocial behavior? Do teens even listen to the lyrics?
Depending on which report you read, each question can be answered, “yes,” “no” and “maybe.”
Those who research these issues are faced with a chicken or egg conundrum. Does a teen’s choice of music reflect a chosen lifestyle or does the music influence the teen’s lifestyle? For example, research suggests that alienated youth tend to listen to heavy metal, but there is no proof that listening to heavy metal causes youth to become alienated. However, for youth who are already “at risk,” listening to heavy metal music can exacerbate their issues.
Clearly, it is complicated.
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that adolescents choose music to reflect their emotions. In their policy statement titled, “Impact of Music, Music Lyrics and Music Videos on Children and Youth,” pediatricians are advised to “become familiar with the role of music in the lives of children and adolescents and identify music preferences of their patients as clues to emotional conflict or problems.” Parents are also advised to become media literate.
But with today’s technology and easy access to music, how can we effectively monitor what our teens are tuning into before they turn into someone we don’t recognize?
Until reading the fine print, I often relied on “Parental Advisory” warnings to determine whether a CD was appropriate for my daughters. In 1985, after receiving pressure from the National PTA and the Parents Music Resource Center, record companies created the “Parental Advisory Label Program,” which established guidelines for labeling records containing explicit lyrics inappropriate for children. The Record Industry Association of America and its members claim to take the PAL Program seriously. Unfortunately, participation in the program is voluntary, making it an ineffective tool for monitoring music.
As is often the case, the best approach for parents, I think, is to be involved. Talk to your children about their music and why they like it. And no matter how painful it might be, strap on their headphones and listen in. Being aware of and understanding your teen’s choice of music might just open an otherwise closed window into their world.
With some teens, any insight you can get into what makes them tick is important.
I admit, I am a sucker for any song with a neck-dancing, foot-tapping beat, and many of Billboard’s top 10 songs deliver. I believe in freedom of speech and artistic expression, but why do so many of today’s pop artists feel the need to shock us with their lyrics?
I’m a relatively unimpressionable adult. I can always change the station if the lyrics offend me. But our teens are impressionable and have not yet developed a filter.
Is the trend toward more aggressive and violent music causing us as a society to be more aggressive and violent? Or is today’s music simply reflecting society’s current mood? Either way, the world is changing and I am troubled with the trend.
I wonder what Beethoven would think.
Mara Rasure is a retired attorney. She is married with two teenage daughters. For tips on how to manage music in your home, check out the Media Awareness Network here.