Thursday, May 8, 2008

Open Doors: Music

This is the first in a series that I referred to yesterday, on "open doors" when it comes to Christian parenting. Influences that will affect your parenting, and the minds of your children, that we all have to be mindful of. I certainly don't have all the answers but I do have some thoughts on this that I hope you find helpful. As always, I'd love to hear from you, on these things.

When I was a teenager, I liked the kind of music that made my mom cringe. Mom was country, I was rock 'n roll, and never the 'twain shall meet, except for a few very talented southern rock bands/artists such as Neil Young and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Still, in those days (it wasn't really that long ago, I'm referring to the period between about 1976-1982), there was a big difference between Southern Rock and Country Western. I think that's changed quite a bit over the last two decades.

The reason it made mom cringe, aside from the style that she just didn't like, were the lyrics. Not so much the actual words themselves, but the way that she couldn't understand them. To her, the way these songs were sung they were unintelligable garbly-glop and it made her dislike the music. As a teenager I thought it was sort of humorous that my mom didn't know the words, but the truth is... there were more than a few times I read the lyrics myself on an album cover only to realize I song I had been singing along to, was actually saying something else. Yes, in a few cases I had what is known as Chronic Lyricosis, and sang the wrong words to the song. I'm fairly certain that there were quite a few songs I wouldn't have known what they were saying either, if I hadn't read the album covers.

If that were the only problem with musical styles between parents and teenagers, we could all pack it up and go home right now. If that were the only problem with music, it would be a welcome relief.

For those that love music, or are related to someone who does, we all know just how powerful music can be. It can bless your heart when you're sad, it can make you cry when you least expect it, and it can quite literally change the way you think, the way you act, and the way you speak. It is an incredibly powerful medium, and almost everyone in the world is affected by it in one way or another.

How Christian parents balance a love for music, and an encouragement to explore and appreciate all kinds of different music, with the powerful influence that music has, is the real trick. You might like your kids to discover the beauty of music, but at the same time you can neither be too lenient and let them listen to/buy whatever they want, nor can you be so restrictive and only allow them A, B, or C. It's a very difficult area to balance, for a lot of different reasons.

I know a pastor who is pro-actively involved in the homeschooling of his girls, and who also loves music. He wants his girls to be critical thinkers when it comes to musical choices (and life choices in general as well) so he's devised a type of musical curriculum for them to learn how to do this. On each of their iPods, he pre-loaded numerous selections of different genres. From rock, to jazz, opera, hymns, alternative, and more. He shared with me that as a part of their "music class", what they do is listen together to the same song, and then have discussion about it. How was the song arrainged? Was it comforting, exciting, depressing, angry or other? What did the lyrics say, and what did they mean? Were they God honoring, or neutral, or blatantly anti-God?

When I first learned of this approach, I really liked it. It not only teaches younger minds to explore music, but to question what it is about the music that they like. Most of us I'm sure don't really know why we like what we do, we just know that we do and that's good enough.

One of the most dangerous trends I've seen with my own kids and people their age, is the affect that popular music has on them. Popular music has always had an influence on young people (my generation included) but the lyrics and the arraignment of today's music is far more "in your face" and anti-God, than it ever was in my time. Sure there were the Satanic, European death metal groups in the 70's, but they certainly weren't "popular" and/or listened to by the mainstream teenager world. They were just creepy and most of us thought so then, and still think so now.

Today's popular music teaches girls that it's okay to have pre-marital sex, get drunk & do drugs, and act like a common prostitute. It teaches boys that it's okay to treat girls like that, and for both of them it teaches that it's acceptable to spit in the face of authority, from your parents to police, to teachers and God Himself. Now, before I start sounding really ancient (or like Tipper Gore), let me just say that I only wish I were making this stuff up. The difference between the "rebellious" musical content that parents railed about in the 50's and 60's, is that back then the message was often veiled or candy-coated in the songs, and it wasn't the MAIN message in the majority of popular songs. Today, this IS the message and the main theme of popular music. It's not candy-coated but spelled out in vulgar and profane lyrics, and it conveys an unmistakable message that it's OKAY to be this way.

Unfortunately, this is the music that young people want to listen to. These are the songs they download and fill their mp3 players with, the ones on the radio constantly and these are the bands that are playing at the concerts they want to go to. You can see the influence this music has on their dress, their attitudes, and their language. Just like every generation of teenagers, the music they listen to is reflected in who they are. Not only do they emulate the message of the songs they hear, they also mimic the singers themselves, and will often begin to dress differently. Those singers are their role models, so it's a normal progression for them to do this. (Yes, my generation and my friends did it too, there was a time where we all looked like roadies for a rock band - and we didn't come up with that look on our own, let me tell you that!)

So then, the real dilema for parents is this: where do you draw the line? Do you put your foot down and say "this trash will not be allowed in my house, ever" ?? The argument could easily be made for this, if say for example, what they were listening to was one of those Satanic death metal bands I mentioned above. No question you'd not allow that in your house, right? But this is popular music and what "everyone" is listening to and you're just being an old geezer and trying to ruin their life if you lay down that law. So then, do you just trust in the way you raised them that they're smart enough to discern the trash from the good and let them buy/listen to whatever they want? You might do this, and find out a year or two down the road that the wicked messages in those songs were far more attractive than the morality that you raised them with. By then it's too late and they can't "unhear" what they've already heard, and allowed to become part of their very personal expression.

The balance is simple, really. It's also very complicated too, because you're definitely going to get some disagreements from your teenagers.

You talk to them.

Ask them what that lyric said, or what it meant. Ask them why they like that style of music, and if they think it's pleasing to God, a sort of "neutral" area, or blatantly anti-God or anti-Christian morality. Be prepared for some answers you might not have expected too, because eventually they will come. Also be prepared to have to make some choices that they're not going to like when you DO have to say, regarding certain music, that it will not be permitted in your house. They will dislike this, but as the parent you know far better than they do what is absolute poision to their souls, and what they are not old enough and mature enough to discern for themselves. Don't just lay down the law with an iron fist though - but tell them why. Read the lyrics yourself, or better yet have them read the lyrics outloud to you, and your spouse. So much of today's music is so filled with vulgarity and profanity, that it's a good bet your teenager would be quite reluctant to actually read them outloud to you. When they are reluctant, ask them why they're willing to sing along with it, but have a hard time reading them outloud without the driving beat in the background. That will make for a very interesting conversation indeed.

The teenage years are a time of your kids discovering who they are, what they like, where they're going and why. It's a rough time, and whether they admit it or not, they NEED a strong support that helps them through it, helps them think things through, and not just follow the trend of the day - whether that's music or any other trend. The more you encourage them to think about these things and not just zone out and take them in, the better for them in the long run.

The more you take this as serious as it is, and start this kind of interaction with them about music even when they're 6 or 8 years old, the easier those conversations will be by the time they're teenagers. I only wish I knew 20 years ago, what I know now.

Great Christian t-shirts and gift ideas for the whole family