Parental discretion advised

Guest post by Starr C.


I consider myself quite cosmopolitan when it comes to music. Some of the most profound memories of my childhood and adulthood are recanted with the playing of a particular song.

My first record album: Michael Jackson’s Thriller. My first cassette tape: LL Cool J’s Bigger and Deffer. My first CD: En Vogue’s Funky Divas. While deployed to Iraq, it was Renee Fleming’s operatic voice that sang me to sleep every night.

As a child I recall some evenings when my father, weary from his day as a soldier in the Army, would nurse a cold Lone Star while listening to Willie Nelson and George Straight.

My mother was known to drift off to sleep wearing large cushiony head phones that boomed with her Oldies but Goodies collection. (When sneaking out of our apartment as a teenager I’d creep up to Mom’s bedroom door and if I heard the muffled sound of Oldies but Goodies, I’d simply walk out the front door). I can still hear her mumbling “Stop! In the name of looove…” in between her snores.

One hot summer, while we were dating, Ranger (my husband) and I blazed across 5 southern states in a 1985 Ford pickup with no air conditioner, a plume of smoke behind us, and a hole in the fuel tank while listening to Led Zeppelin’s entire music collection.

The time when I start complaining about the current generation’s music has not yet arrived. I’ve become the Mom in the mini-van singing along to everything from Britney Spears to the White Stripes. Whether or not to get the XM Satellite package with my Honda Odyssey was a no brainer. When Ranger discovered an old school hip hop station on XM it was like Christmas in July.

So, as you can imagine, my iTunes playlist has just about every genre you can think of. My kids LOVE music. This is not an overstatement. Big J, aka Lord of the Dance, recently was a ring bearer at a wedding and ended the night with a large crowd of women clapping around him as he did his best Michael Jackson tribute.

Yet one thing I never gave much thought about was the censorship I would have to do on my music library when choosing the “shuffle” option because the kids were around. I realized this not too long ago when Cyprus Hill’s “Hits from the Bong” came on the stereo while cleaning house with Middle L nearby.

You haven’t lived until you see a two year old do the baby dance to the Bong’s smooth melody. I realized that she had no clue what the words were, and like a true lover of music, was simply dancing without modesty to the song.

You can skirt by listening to most music stamped with a “Parental Advisory” sticker around your two year old. But take caution when they reach five. On our way to school one morning, Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie” came on the radio (the 90’s channel to be exact).

In a fit of passion (cue in: “That’s my sooong”) I started to sing along until I heard a little voice behind me saying, “Mommy, what’s the nookie?” Party foul. Turn the music off. The whole time I was singing along I thought Big J was plugged into Little Mermaid on his DVD player and headphones. But I think that my little karaoke moment intrigued him so he took his headset off to see what I was singing to.

Soooo…a tale of caution, my friends. I’m sure I’ll be that cranky old woman screeching at her kids for her Wu Tang CD. Until then you’ll find me in the mini-van either singing “Liar” with Henry Rollins while the kids are plugged into their movies OR sulking behind the steering wheel singing “Treasure, treasure, find that treasure!!” (Backyardigans) for the millionth time in a row.

Comments on Parental discretion advised

  1. I know a lot of offbeat parents who have had an interesting time walking the fine line of protecting the innocence of their children and having the music and lifestyle that they prefer. Many of the parents I know have taken their children to concerts and festivals without any fear of the things their children would be exposed to. I believe they handle those awkward questions fairly honestly and implore their children not to repeat the words they hear in the music. Also their kids realize that they are listening to grown-up music and that if they don't behave with the things they hear that they will lose that privilege. They feel like they are getting a treat when they get to go to mommy and daddy's concert or listen to mommy's song in the car. I think it's great that you are exposing your children to so many diverse kinds of music and I hope they grow to become accomplished musicians/dancer/connoisseurs.

  2. First let me say I I've actually had the reverse of your story- I was raised very conservatively (no magic stories, shows like "saved by the bell" that disrespect authority, or profanity of any kind (including things bugs bunny would say). Throughout my adolescence and as an adult I've found it very hard to figure out just who I am because I'm constantly being exposed to new things. I also ended up getting pregnant(which i'd never take back) and making a few other 'poor 'choices very young with a lot of influence wrought from my naiveté and lack of real world big picture. So with my children, I let them watch, listen and read to anything they want, supervised and with some majorly intensive discussion, because it's important to me that they don't hear it from somewhere else with someone else's spin, and in the end, a lot of the censorship and the innocence we cling to so much as parents is still there naturally, because the forbidden is so much more appealing than the permissive.

  3. I like that you mentioned "majorly intensive discussion." I'm not so much about censorship either, but I agree that it's super important to help your kids process things that may be beyond their understanding (like pretty much everything in the media). The real concern is when kids are left alone with all these influences and have to make sense of them with no guidance – when things are created for an older audience, it's important to have an older person to help them navigate it.

  4. I'm all for discretion, but sometimes kids don't realize or care about the lyrics either. One of my favorite songs as a kid was Garth Brooks' The Thunder Rolls, which (for those who don't know) is about a cheating husband who gets shot by his wife in the final verse. I couldn't figure out why it bugged my mom that I liked it so much until I was 13 or so.

    I also agree with the two above posters in that exposure with adult supervision is a good thing. In my conservative household, I would learn "X is bad, don't do it" without definition of X. It made me all the more curious and susceptible to it. Thankfully no really bad choices came out of it.

  5. haha this reminds me of our 2 year old running around singing "let the bunnies hit the floor, let the bunnies hit the flooooor!!" instead of bodies. Is it bad that Daddy has taught him to say "Rock out with my socks out" ?

    I was listening to Outkast the other day and my 15 month old was totally bopping to "Spread" ahhh!

    just stumbled across your website and am really digging it 🙂

  6. I grew up with all kinds of excellent music. My mother never believed in censorship, and I don't remember it ever being a problem. As far back as I can remember there were things and words i would hear about and I knew they were grown up things, so I ignored those parts and enjoyed the rest. When my cousin was eight, his favorite song was Stacey's Mom. My uncle simply made him an edited version and let him listen to it as much as he wanted, the only thing he removed was the profanity. (and only because my cousin was all into testing rules and boundaries at the time, so why give him more ideas?)

  7. Over Xmas break, my 7 yo stepson was obsessed with the song “Fireflies” and I would turn up the radio and he would sing it around the house all the time. SO CUTE.

    That being said, I was thinking about this the other day as I was backing up my touch’s music. He’s coming up for summer break in a couple of weeks, and we’ll be tooling around in the car a lot.

    I would be more worried about violence in songs — as a teacher, I see SO many little kids singing along to really violent or profanity laced songs that denigrate women, and it horrifies me. I am not into censorship at all, but I really don’t think that’s appropriate for 5 yos.

    Most of my tunes, though, are more sexually explicit indierock songs, so…

    I think I’ll just shuffle past certain Liz Phair songs, and play it (pun intended) by ear.

  8. Looking back on my childhood I asked my fairly conservative mom an important question:

    How on Earth did you let me watch Dirty Dancing when I was 7?

    Her answer?

    Oh, you just thought Johnny Castle was cute. You had no idea what a slut Penny was.

    And scene.

    It wasn’t until college that I truly understood why Penny was hurt. Maybe I was sheltered, or maybe I just thought Johnny Castle WAS that cute and everything else in the movie didn’t really matter!

    • i watched dirty dancing at my friend’s house when i was 5. before we turned it on, her mom and older sister made me promise that i wouldn’t tell my mom!

  9. The other day, my friend S. had Avenged Sevenfold’s song “Nightmare” playing on the radio in her car with her three year old in the back.
    It WAS the radio version BUT he had heard the original with the lyrics “Your ****ing nightmare” previously.

    S. turns off the car and their getting ready to walk into the apartment building. Her son, Z., says “Your ****ing nightmare” in his tiny cute little voice, to S.’s horror!
    She says “You can’t say ****ing!”, in her shock.

    Z. says “Holy moly nightmare?” CUTEST.MOMENT.EVER.

    I also accidently taugt Z. and S.’s five year old to booty dance to “Baby got back”. I had to quickly change my butt dancing to flapping wings/arms and start singing “Baby got bat!”.

  10. From one music lover to another, I loved your essay! When our son was about 3 months old we were stuck in traffic and he wasn’t happy about it. The radio on and as soon as Metallica came on there was silence from the back seat. Ha! Metal baby.

  11. My mother did not believe in censorship. I used to walk into my 2 year old class and sing “Suicide Blonde” (INXS) to my teacher. They would let my mother know, surprised I knew the song…but to be honest…I don’t really remember the song much at all – I can’t even sing the lyrics now. Also…my mother used “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” (Guns and Roses) as a lullaby for me! Pretty awesome!

  12. Going through this right now its hard to balance my love of “inapproriate” music with not listening to kids bop (oh god please not again).

    on a side note one of my girls loves John Travolta movies so we watched look who’s talking. I had forgotten about the intro scene! skip is my new fav dvd button

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