I was born in West Philly at University of Pennsylvania Hospital and, like Will Smith, I think “Parents Just Don’t Understand”. Parents want to protect children and in their effort to do so they sometimes miss opportunities to teach us value lessons and worse, sometimes they miss opportunities to learn from us. And if that wasn’t bad enough, sometimes parents underestimate our ability to understand and evaluate the meaning of things happening around us.
Parents’ lack of understanding shows up when it comes to music. I hear it all the time from my parents that today’s music is just not as good as music from “back in the day”. On any given day my mom will subject me to every late 80s and early 90s song that she can find on YouTube—so she can introduce me to a time when music had words, she says. I have had to listen to Anita Baker, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight and Lauryn Hill multiple times. I have watched the “Scream” video at least 10 times. I must admit that Janet and Michael Jackson are really good together. My dad, on the other hand, makes me listen to every old rapper in the world. He even quotes them when he talks in conversation. His goal I think is to make it sound like those are his words when in reality they belong to Uncle Tarik aka Black Thought of The Roots, Biggie, Cool G. Rap, Nas or some other rappers. But whether it’s 80s, 90s or today’s music, my parents like other parents are always quick to edit the music that children listen to. My dad controls the music I listen to by talking loudly during the places in songs where there is profanity. My mom is more explicit than my dad. She will forward or change the song. I know they think they are protecting me, but in reality they are just ruining the song.
I am 11 years old and I hear more bad stuff during the day at school, on the bus, and on television—more than I will ever hear in a 15-minute car ride to Target or over breakfast.
To me, music is transformative and educational. My parents clearly know the power of music. My mom dances with me all the time. My dad is a geographer who DJs on the side. We all love music. But even though they love music, I don’t think they understand what it means to me and kids like me. But my parents are not alone. I think most parents just don’t understand what music means to tweens.
Music offers the ability to connect with ideas, to gain an insight into the world, to explore other ways of thinking. Music frees you to imagine and it opens up your heart. Music, like reading and writing, can transport you to different places. Music feeds your imagination.
And it can do that even if there is a profanity or a sexual innuendo or two in the song. Let me give you an example, the other day Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” came on the radio while we were driving to Staples, and dad quickly turned off the radio because he heard a bad word. He missed a chance to talk to me about the struggles of black people in places like Compton—and he’s been to Compton. But my dad is not a bad guy; he’s a parent.
When my friend Laura’s (the name has been changed to protect the innocent) mom turned off “Often” by The Weekend, she missed a chance to explain the difference between consent and sexual harassment, and to talk about catcalling that often happens to girls our age.
As Tweens we are dealing with a lot of issues in the world—profanity and sex—are a few of them. When these songs come on the radio, television, Pandora, or YouTube, they provide a natural chance for parents to talk to us about their values and ours. It is a chance to learn. When parents cut off, turn down, or change this music, they are essentially cutting off an opportunity to connect with us. They are turning down our voices and they are switching the issue from us to themselves.
Parents who overly censor children’s music are missing lots of opportunities. For example, if a song mentions gun violence, it can provide a chance for parents to talk to their children about the senseless ways in which people are killed, or they could talk about the police violence that we are hearing about every day.
Parents need to understand that music is a learning tool. I suggest that parents use music as a resource to talk to us about the hard issues like drug, sex, religion and more.
Kids understand. Parents should too!!