Thinking of my 'tween: should I be for censorship?

Updated Aug 2 2017
Guest post by Sarah
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I've always prided myself on my support of free speech. While I don't agree with what everyone is allowed to say, I do support their right to say it. My whole philosophy is coming under fire with my oldest son's foray into the "tween" years.

Suddenly, I am very aware of the swears that pop up in my rockin' tunes, as well as the veiled (and not so veiled) drug references. As he waltzed through the kitchen yesterday, I asked my 'tween where he was going. "To get high," he answered. My son is only 10 years old and I am quite positive he isn't doing any drugs. I had the "drug talk" with him today, just to be sure. He does listen to music that talks about the alluring world of drug use and even the so-called "clean" songs he listens to often talk about, at the very least, getting drunk.

I do believe that the only way to "protect" your child from drugs, too-early sex, and other evils is to have an open dialog. But I am wondering if I'm sending the wrong message. I've obviously told my son to stay clear of drugs (he wants to be a professional soccer player and we've talked about how drug use would get him kicked out of the sport), but in all honesty, I didn't steer clear. I also do not have an addictive personality, but my husband does, and we've run into trouble with such issues on both sides of the family tree.

So I guess, what is the right answer here? I feel like if I suddenly start coming down hard on lyrics and TV shows, that he'll look at me like a hypocrite. Help?

  1. I am a big believer in honesty and keeping the lines of communication open. Did I absolutely hate the messages about love, sex, and romance that Twilight sent? YES! BUT, since we were both reading it, it gave me an avenue to talk to my teenage daughter about these issues. Just like songs with drug references gave you an avenue to check in and talk with your son about drug use.

  2. From my end, as a kid raised in a relatively open kind of environment, let me tell you the bad things I've experimented with: I've smoked exactly one pack of cigarettes in 26 years, I didn't drink until after I went to college (and have only been drunk twice in the 8 or so years since then), and the worse pot exposure I've gotten is all second hand. Many of the reasons why I stayed away from things like that is examples of what goes wrong when you take something to an extreme. I also knew kids in high school who drank and got high frequently and it just never seemed as much fun as playing video games or reading. Since I read everything I could get my hands on, I knew a lot of consequences from characters in stories (it helps to read good, well written books, with dynamic characters).

    I think you're on the right path by using soccer as a way to make your son understand that doing these things can harm him, whether physically or legally. I also think you're in for some flack when he's old enough to realize you're telling him to not do the things you did – but that's a part of raising a kid. Give him the information he needs to make informed decisions and he won't let you down.

    • " I also think you're in for some flack when he's old enough to realize you're telling him to not do the things you did – but that's a part of raising a kid."
      I don't necessarily think that's true. Sometimes letting a kid know that you speak from experience when telling them something is a bad idea is just the approach you need.
      'Don't do this thing because it's really a stupid thing to do, let me give you an example (or twelve) from my own life' is probably a better sell, for most kids, than 'I don't personally know what I'm talking about, but respected authorities say this is bad.'
      I know it seems to work on my daughter, anyway.

    • My upbringing was just the opposite. I was extremely sheltered. My parents listened to any CD I bought before I could and told me precisely which songs on it I was allowed to actually listen to. I wasn't allowed to wear nail polish or see any movie rated over PG (and even those were questionable).
      And you know what? I still never smoked more than 4 cigarettes, didn't drink until college (and even that was sparingly and usually only a drink here and there) and I've still to this day never done any illegal drugs.

      I think a lot of it has to do with your childs personality too. Are they willing to sit and listen or are they naturally the kind that need to find things out on their own?

      • I completely agree with you in that it depends on the child's personality. My parents were really rebelious teenagers, and did just about any and every activity that a parent would not want their teen to partake in. My folks have always been very open and honest with us about their experiences and the effects of alcohol and drug use. As a result, I have always steered clear, and have the occasional "social" drink. My brother, on the other hand, started smoking in his early teens and has been battling with alcoholism and drug abuse for the last decade. I think it has more to do with the individual than the upbringing. I don't mean that their are "good" people and "bad" people, or that we should judge people who do succumb to alcohol and drugs (my brother is a wonderful human being and it breaks my heart to see his struggle)but I definitely think that there is only so much that a parent can do to prevent these things.

        • Exactly. My brother and I had the same upbringing and he is currently struggling with alcoholism too. I have another brother who is naturally…stubborn? He's one of those people that learns by doing, not by listening. Some kids just are that way and as much as it sucks as a parent, you have to let them make their own mistakes.

      • I agree that a lot of it is just in the kid's personality. I don't really recall my parents ever giving us a drug talk…I think it was just a given that we'd never do them. No one in our family smoked, so it was just an offensive thing that other people did sometimes. My dad never drank (apparently he had a rough patch earlier in life and gave up alcohol altogether aside from half a glass of wine at Thanksgiving) but my mom had an occasional beer. During menopause, she had a beer every night. So…I don't know what someone would predict about me siblings and I based on that, but the way it worked was that one brother tried an occasional drink before 21, and my other siblings wait have an occasional social drink. I, on the other hand, am a DARE poster child. I've never had a sip of alcohol or a smoke of anything. Originally I was just planning on being 100% legal by not drinking before 21, and then it became more like, "Well, I've gone this far without drinking and I don't feel like I'm missing out on much." Now I'm 27…still haven't drank.
        Now, when it comes to the sex talk…we never got that either, I think because our parents knew that our school had a good sex ed program. But, we were NEVER allowed to watch movies or TV shows with sex scenes where the people were unmarried. We weren't allowed to have sleepovers at friends houses where the parents were unmarried or the mom had a boyfriend or something (duh, cuz unmarried people do it on the dining room table in front of their childrens' friends!). Yet somehow, I don't think this effected any of us the same. My younger sisters both married their high school boyfriends when they were 20, one waiting for marriage, the other not. I was a late bloomer, not having my first kiss until 20, and then I went through a slew of "cuddle buddies" during college. I'm now married, and my husband was not my "first"…..So, I don't know what that means.

  3. I don't think censorship is the answer – what is forbidden becomes even more attractive.

    I would just take it matter of factly and don't ignore these things when they pop up. Say, for example, that you're playing his music in the car and a song that makes a reference to drugs comes up – you can just say something like "what do drugs have to do with [whatever the rest of the song is about]" or just a simple "I hate how all songs end up making references to sex even if it's indirectly" (and then if your son asks you how that particular song has a sex / drugs / whatever reference talk about it the same way as if you were talking about metaphors in a book or poem – imagery is imagery, it doesn't matter what medium is used).

    Don't shy away from it, don't make a big deal out of it, don't try to moralize (your opinions will be obvious anyway from your words), don't hide or shame the fact that in your families there have been addiction problems, hope it leads to conversations in which your son asks questions or shares his own budding opinions but don't force it.

    • Yes! Kids learn early on that things which are forbidden are usually fun. Eating lots of candy? Staying up late? Spraying a whole can of shaving cream all over the bathroom? Your parents are always telling you not to do things that you KNOW are super fun! So, what's the natural assumption you're going to arrive at when they tell you not to do drugs or have sex?

  4. My parents were very open with us growing up. They explained sex, drugs, alcohol and other behaviors very early on. They talked frankly with us about their past drug usage and as musicians, my brother and I were used to seeing sloppy drunk people in clubs. All of this made me steer clear of experimentation for quite some time because those behaviors weren't romanticized. In middle/high school, everyone around me thought that drinking was so grown-up/cool/rebellious but I saw guys puking into the bathroom sink and embarrassing themselves. When I did start to experiment with drinking, my mom was there to supervise/control the situation.

    On the other hand, my parents were so permissive only under the auspice that we didn't screw up. My mom was ok with me drinking underage, but it was mostly at home and we never drove ever. If I would have been stupid and messed up, that wouldn't continue. My brother started smoking pot relatively early, but he never did anything stupid to get caught. Their attitudes were to trust us, create open dialogue so they can be in the loop and we can have correct info, and let us go. If we were to mess up, we would be on a short leash. It was good experience in self-control when so many people around us were getting wasted and stupid behind their parent's backs.

  5. I've been struggling with something similar for awhile with the 12-year-old in our household. She's been living with her sister since she was 10, and has been exposed to more in terms of sex, drugs and drinking than I was by the age of 18. However, she's gotten a very balanced understanding, as she gets perspectives from her sister, who doesn't drink; myself, someone who used to drink but doesn't really enjoy it anymore (not to mention currently being pregnant); and the two men in our household who enjoy getting drunk (though never in her company, of course). So, she says things like, "I don't really ever want to get drunk". That may change in a few years of course, but if it does, if she's too embarrassed to tell her sister she got too drunk at a party, she can come to me and I can tell her some of my stories. We're all very open with her, but that might be because we're closer to her age than we would be if we were actually her parents.

    On the other hand, we were watching a TV show together that was a bit beyond her years, and halfway through it I told her we wouldn't be watching it anymore, at least not until she's older. In this case the show was dealing with rape, which she's somewhat familiar with, but I just told her I didn't want her to be exposed yet, since she's exposed to so much already. She still sometimes asks if we can start watching the show again, but I've been holding my ground. However, saying, "you're still a kid! you shouldn't have to hear about drugs/sex/rock'n'roll yet!" may not work with most kids.

    • A great point – there's a big (but sometimes hard to spot) difference between censorship and restricting your child to age-appropriate materials.

      Is is appropriate for my 6 year old to watch a guns and violence movie? Am I censoring him if I turn it off? It's less clear when talking about restricting my 16 year old from watching the same movie.

      It also depends on each child's ability to think through and critically-analyse the material they see/hear, rather than absorb it unthinkingly. For me, tween girls often don't have the tools to filter the sexualised, thin-is-everything images they're bombarded with, so I may restrict them for buying Cosmo for example. I may decide differently with a 16 year old though.

      • It also depends on each child's ability to think through and critically-analyse the material they see/hear, rather than absorb it unthinkingly.

        I fall similar to this — where I try to observe my son and decide what I think he's really emotionally prepared for. (Or let him tell me)

        Grated: my son is only three. But it's clear when something we listen to is distressing him — and I use his cues to decide when a show/song/etc needs to go out of rotation. He can't quite parse through, "This thing on television isn't real," and he will quite vocally tell me: "Too scary!"

        I have no idea how we'll work it when he's older, but it works for now.

  6. I love the way my parents dealt with these issues, and I plan to look to them as an example when my daughter gets old enough that these issues surface. My dad did not censor us from his music (and there's some freaky stuff in those Frank Zappa lyrics), but he did make it known that he thought the lyrics were not appropriate for kids, and that he was embarrassed by them but, hey, he likes Frank Zappa.

    With drugs, rather similarly, my parents were honest with me about the fact that they'd done them and that the experimentation had its appeal at times, but also that they knew people who went too far (my mom had some real scared-straight stories about two smart college kid friends of hers who died needlessly young of heroin overdoses).

    I think they did a stellar job of turning me into a person who knows that it's OK to make my own decisions about what I like, to be critical of what I hear, to try what I want to try, and who also knows when to be careful around something or someone. Yay parents!

  7. Yeah, ALL kids WILL experience messages about drugs/sex/whatever outside of the house, probably sooner rather than later. If they also get thoughtful messages about these things inside their home they will be better prepared to hold their own when they have to make decisions about these things.
    My parents were painfully honest about their young lives, what went well and what was a mistake. The joke among my friends was that I was straight edge because it was the only way to rebel against my ex-hippie parents. In truth, I was the kind of kid who could learn from others' mistakes and my parents taught me to be well informed and to have good judgement. It didn't always line up perfectly with their judgement, but it mostly came from a thoughtful place based on my own beliefs and comfort zones.
    I think kids get in trouble when they are confronted with a new situation and they haven't worked through how they want to handle it. Then the default is impulse or go with the flow. Not ideal. If they have a real reason for choosing one way or another, they will be more successful sticking to that choice.
    Also, hypocrisy wouldn't have worked with me, and it didn't work well for my friends with "do as I say not as I do" parents. They were "perfect" teenagers and then went ape-shit crazy the second they left for college.

  8. I agree with Julie – my thoughts on this are to keep things open and to mediate, not ban. My kids aren't old enough, but once it gets to the stage they're absorbing messages that I might not like, whether that's about drugs or pressure to conform, I'll try to understand the source of them (so I'll watch the TV show, get to know the website etc), not to ban it, so I can talk to them about why those messages aren't good ones.

  9. I was going to share my opinion but everyone else already said it so well. Don't ban, just guide. I once saw a quote that said, "most parents reached the teen years to discover they've been transfered out of management and into marketing."

  10. Honesty! My daughter is damned head strong. When she hits teen years, she will do whatever she damn well pleases. What we can do prior to that is educate her fertile mind – drugs can do this, but in excess do this. Sex is great when it's the right person, but there are wrong people on the road to the right person, so here's some birth control and graphic descriptions of various STDs. Did you father and I follow this? Yes, to a point. Your're going to do what you want anyway, at least make an informed decision.

  11. I had a similar experience to the author when I moved in with my soon-to-be stepdaughters and heard the nine-year-old singing about "having a menage a trois" from my backseat. I think my heart actually stopped. I had the worst month trying to work out how to stop letting her and her older sister listen to "their" music in my car without alienating them in our very new relationship. Then, I remembered singing George Michael's "I want your sex" word-for-word on the playground with my friends in fifth grade–the grade she was headed into. Despite the lyrics, none of us went out and had sex at an early age. We probably didn't really "get" what we were singing about at the time other than the vague "sex" bit. After this minor epiphany, the next time that song (which is one of several examples) came on, I asked her if she knew what a menage a trois was? She said "no." I asked her if she wanted to know, she said "no, I just like the song." Months later she said she wanted to know, and I responded, "well, it's about sex." Her response, "eewww, no, don't tell me anymore."

    I believe as she gets older, she will be curious and she will ask since she has already asked about the alcohol-related topics also prevalent in pop songs. So, my attitude about "their" music has come full circle: it is now an avenue to talk to them about various activities that they will no doubt be exposed to. At the moment, both girls believe it is "lame" (or whatever their word is for it) to get drunk and have sex all the time. Our running joke in the car is to see if we can get from Point A to Point B without hearing about sex, getting wasted, or the word "tonight" in the songs that come on. The longest distance we've gone is 10 miles.

    • I knew every word of Meatloaf's "Paradise By the Dashboard Light" before I knew how to read. Of course I didn't know what the song was actually about until I was a teenager.

    • Oh, I remember the George Michael days! I agree with your point. I think explaining things when they want to know is a smart idea.

    • My favorite song growing up was Garth Brooks' "Thunder Rolls" about a cheating husband whose wife gets fed up and shoots him. I had no idea, I just loved the haunting sound of the song and the thunder in the background.

  12. I think many of the drug/sex references go right over kids heads. For example, I didn't realize that "Love in an Elevator" was about oral sex until college. lol! Maybe ask him what he thinks particular lyrics mean. This isn't to say you should have sex/drug conversations with him, of course.

  13. My mom was great she was always really straight forward when she talked about drugs, sex, etc she told me the basics of the sex talk earlier and at 14 she sat me down "this is a condom/ they will be kept here /this is how to use one"
    She has always been open about her past drug used telling me about the moment she decided to stop using coke waiting in line to cash her check and trying to figure out how much she could take out and still cover her bills and still buy an eightball. I inherited her addictive nature and I've watched her posion her body with alchohol and cigarettes. I was older when I started experimenting with anything and I was very careful to try to avoid temptation. I think her honesty was very big part of that.

  14. I don't think there's anything wrong with restricting materials based on age-appropriateness. In our house growing we were not allowed to see rated R movies until we were 17 unless they were pre-approved by mom and dad, no music with explicit lyrics as a youngster, we didn't say bad words in our house, no MTV (godforbid), open talking about drugs/sex/alcohol but explicit NOs to all three until adulthood (preferably never for the drugs part per my parents) and I have to say, I turned out to be a pretty okay/balanced individual. I think of it in the sense that I didn't have to digest adult things with a little kid's brain. By the time I was seeing rated R movies or movies with stuff my mom wasn't crazy about, I was well past being able to separate reality from fiction. Because we had open discussions about things, I never felt the need to find out more or experiment – my folks answered any questions I had honestly. As an adult (is 25 considered an adult? i'm still not convinced…) I choose not to drink at all, never have, and married a guy that does the same (even though my folks both do on occasion), never touched a cigarette or illegal drugs, lost my virginity at 18 to a quality individual, and am in grad school pursuing something I am really passionate about. I do: curse like a sailor (in appropriate company) and as a student midwife am very open to discussing sex and vaginas (in all company). I'd like to think they did okay. In retrospect, there were some things I know my folks were a little overzealous about restricting, but in general I believe I'll parent similarly someday. I don't think boundaries are always a bad thing.

    • I'm definitely open to boundaries and have worried about exposing my kids to "adult stuff when they have kid size brains". I've found (like above) that asking them outright if they know what so-and-so is, they more often than not, do not.

  15. I have this same concern, but not as much with cussing and drugs, or even "certain kinds" of sexual references. But I do look back at some of the music I used to love, especially rap music, and have concern for my child/future children. Even when I used to listen to that music myself, I felt guilty because much of it was very degrading to women and I felt like I was supporting that by buying the CDs. I hated watching music videos of the songs I normally listened to on the radio. Talking about bitches and hos and suck my dick and all that. Or not drugs per se but how about drug-dealing and gangs and guns? I guess this relates to the earlier comments about rape and violence. I'm not that concerned with the f-word or references to "joints" or even hooking up. But for some reason, rap and hip-hop, can often (not always) be so much more explicit than other genres. And I LOVE rap and hip-hop. But I guess I'll just have to rely on communication and then trust my children to make their own decisions even if they do something I wish they didn't. Just wanted to add this topic to the discussion.

  16. As a former tween and teenager I think open dialogue is definitely the way to go, for 3 reasons:

    1) He's clearly already encountered some of these things, and WILL encounter others in future and may well not understand them, which could get him into trouble. I once read a fantastic article (which I cannot now find) about a guy who listed to Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction with his brother as a kid and on rediscovering it as an adult was genuinely shocked to realise Nightrain was not simply about an overnight journey and Mr Brownstone may be a bit more sinister than that dude at parties who thinks he can badger people into having fun. If he's going to repeat words and phrases he's heard without understanding them properly he could get into trouble with teachers, other parents etc. so a bit of knowledge may save him a lot of hassle.

    2) Kind of a follow-on from 1 – he IS going to encounter these things sooner or later, one way or another. By trying to hide it when you're around and hope it doesn't happen all you're doing is removing yourself from the conversation and missing the opportunity to be the person who helps him understand the full implications of what he's seeing or hearing.

    3) I genuinely think I've learned more good lessons from bad influences than anywhere else. My schools "Drugs Awareness Day" (note: just 1 day, when we were 15) was only better than the infamous South Park episode in that they were saying "Drugs are bad m'kay because…drugs are bad" with some conviction. Apparently they were under strict instructions not to scare us and therefore left us with a vague impression that you needed to be careful because drugs could be expensive and some people wouldn't like the way you talked while you were high.

    The musicians I discovered over the next few years were under no such constraints and intentionally or otherwise left me with a lasting impression that drug abuse was a truly terrible thing and something I was quite happy to learn about vicariously. Very, very few of the artists I listened to explicitly said 'don't' and on some occasions explicitly said 'do' but the overall effect was definitely to put me off. Especially when I'd listen to their songs and end up thinking of all the others which I'd never hear, because they would never be written, because the people who might have written them never found a way to escape their demons.

    Indirectly it also addressed the misconception I didn't even realise I had that addiction was something that only happened to stupid people with bad families. Many of these people were clearly intelligent, eloquent individuals (case in point, they were able to create sentences like "my house was awash in the foetid effluvia of my decaying body") and in every way they seemed like genuinely nice people, good friends…everything I'd been told an addict was not. Which helped not only break down my assumptions about who was 'safe' and who was not, but also gave me a different perspective when friends faced their own struggles.

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