Obscene Lyrics in Songs

My 10 year old son loves alternative music. He frequently listens to it and sings the lyrics. I don't mind his fascination with it and I do mind some of the lyrics in many of the alternative songs. Having not monitored the music until recently, I was shocked to find that many of the lyrics contain many swear words (much use of the f... word) and many negative lyrics speaking of death and how the world and everyone in it is worthless. I am concerned this influence will alter how my son views the world. I am having difficulty differentiating between what is normal 10 year old disrespect and negative attitude and what is music influenced. What do you think we should do?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

You support your son's growth by showing respect for his choices and passions. This shows positive regard for his individuality. At the same time, your job as a parent also includes filtering the world through your own eyes and ears for appropriate guidance. Your approach is a thoughtful one, so whatever you decide is in your child's best interest will no doubt end up serving him well.

There are a variety of responses possible and often discussions about lyrics and music center around whether such music should be brought into the house, or not. Age of your child and your own philosophy on child rearing will shape your own choice of action. Naturally, you can find those in favor of rules against such music in the house, however this presents the possibility that you will not know what your child is really doing on the side! So your concern about your son's view of the world is well placed. It offers you an opportunity to begin the process of discussion with him to understand what the music he is listening to means to him.

Have an open discussion with your son about your discomfort with the lyrics of the songs he is listening to. Ask him what he likes about the music. Explore with him what the meaning of the lyrics are to him. It is likely that he may not have given it much thought up to this point. Perhaps he likes the beat, or maybe he is listening to music which is popular with his friends and in some way makes him feel included in the group. Discover what the context of this music is for him.

If there are violent or other negative messages in the music your son is playing, point this out to him. Have a discussion about whether he and you agree or disagree with this message. But keep in mind that musical preferences usually involve emotional expression of some kind, which may or may not include agreement with the content itself, but simply allows for an emotional release. Perhaps you remember when you felt sad following the breakup of a relationship and played music filled with laments that you "can't go on without him/her". These musical choices did not mean you believed in suicide, but perhaps you played them to express the feelings of sadness and rejection.

What kind of feelings does this music evoke for your son? Anger? Alienation? Individuality based on pessimism? Or simply a budding interest or latent musical talent of some kind? Staying in tune with his inner landscape lets him know that he is not alone and it allows you greater knowledge of what he is experiencing and where you might help. If he is indeed submerged in feelings of cynicism and anger, you might be concerned about why this is the case for him. What experiences or present situations or incidents would contribute to identifying on a deep level with intense pain, rage or apathy?

Do not be shy in addressing these concerns directly with your son. This kind of connection between parent and child will prove invaluable if he needs your help, now or in the future. And sharing your concerns in a way that invites him into the process increases family bonding. Situations like these provide the fuel for discussions which promote intimate connections. And perhaps these discussions can flower into other areas of discussion and sharing. Maybe a trip to the symphony or introducing other forms of music could open your son's horizons and further your avenue for shared activity beyond the tension of the current situation.

Every generation defines itself in a number of ways, especially through musical and artistic expression. Whether you agree or not your son will be exposed to it because it is a part of his culture. Use this opportunity to dialogue with your son rather than create distance. After gathering more information about the meaning of your son's choice in music, you might also find that you and your spouse may benefit from talking to other parents about this topic. It helps to know that as parents, you are not alone!

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