June 4, 2013

Do You Really Pay Attention To The Music Your Kids Listen To?

Jacqueline Dougé, MD, MPH, FAAP

I know I’m getting old when I don’t like the music that my kids are listening to. My kids and I often have to make deals on who gets to listen to their favorite station in the car. Of course, I could play the mom card and insist on my station, but I don’t because it is an opportunity to hear what my kids are listening to. 

My kids like a variety of music from pop to hip-hop. I have to admit some of today’s artists are pretty good even if nowadays auto-tuning can make anyone a million dollar recording artist. I don’t have a problem with auto-tuning, but I do have a problem with the lyrics.

Have you heard about Rick Ross?  He is a rapper who was recently criticized for his lyrics, which many thought were referencing date rape.  The song lyrics also mention the word “molly,” slang for the drug MDMA (3,4 Methylenedioxymethamphetamine) aka ecstasy. 1 He is not the only artist using these terms in their music.  There are other artists that glamorize alcohol use and drugs.

I’ve asked my sons, one a teenager and the other a preteen, what they thought about the Rick Ross controversy and about other artists that mention the use of drugs, alcohol or violence against women in their lyrics.  They told me that they don’t really pay attention to the lyrics but that they like the music’s beat.  They also made sure that I knew that they would never do something just because it was in a song.  I was happy to hear that, but I was intrigued. Even though they don’t “listen” to the lyrics, when I rephrased the question, they could tell me about other artists that mentioned drugs and alcohol in their song lyrics.

The phenomenon of music referencing drugs, alcohol and demeaning women is not new, but it feels new when you are confronted with it as a parent.  I struggled with how to respond to the issue.  Should my husband and I just ban music?  The answer was no especially since they are also exposed to these images on television too.  They love to watch sports.  Do you know how many commercials promote alcohol?  According to a fact sheet from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, youth exposure to alcohol advertising on TV increased from 2001 to 2005.2 The answer my husband and I decided on was not to censor -- but to limit – their exposure to media and to stay abreast of their media choices. In addition, we talk with them about our expectations and values.

This is the same advice we need to give to the parents of our patients. It is impossible and impractical to censor everything. But it is a parent’s responsibility to first and foremost be aware of what a child is being exposed to. It is only if you know what your child is listening to and watching, that you can judge if it is appropriate, and if it is not, have a discussion with them regarding it.  Pediatricians need to empower parents to have those discussions.  We need to address these issues at our visits and explain to parents the importance of taking the time and opportunities (as painful as they may be) to listen to their children’s music with them.

Reference: 1. National Institutes of Health National Institute on Drug Abuse. DrugFacts: MDMA (Ecstasy) http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/mdma-ecstasy.   Retrieved May 7, 2013.
2.Jonhs Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Alcohol Advertising and Youth http://www.camy.org/factsheets/sheets/alcohol_advertising_and_youth.html.  Retrieved May 7, 2013