Music is a powerful medium with long arms and strong associations. It can set the tone of a home, transport us to a special time and place, and even define an entire generation.

Have you given any thought to the role it plays in your family dynamics? The family media guardian will want to think about the following matters.

  • Music as a teacher. In your child’s early years, music can be a delightfully engaging teaching tool. Preschool tapes cover everything from the alphabet to Sunday school hymns and can be a lifesaver on long car trips. Even here, however, parents need to be sensitive. A kindergartener can be traumatized even by the violence of “Little Bunny Foo-Foo” (“… scooping up the field mice and boppin’ ’em on the head.”).
  • Lyrics. They do matter. The wrong artists and songs can undermine your family values. If the lyrics can’t be freely discussed (or posted on the wall), then turn them off. Some artists bring their entire image into your home. Were you startled when grade-school-aged Britney clones started appearing everywhere in belly shirts?
  • Radio stations. We can flip on the radio, like our TV, and not give another thought to the messages coming across the airwaves — until our child walks in the room and we listen through their ears.
  • Classics. Achieving “classic rock” status does not purify a song. “Lay, Lady, Lay” is just as objectionable today as it was when Bob Dylan first sang it in 1969. And beware of morning DJs; some of their monologues could make a sailor blush.
  • Research. When your children start building their own music collections, take the time to research both the band and the music together. A simple Internet search will usually give you the artist’s official Web site and several fan sites, where lyrics, biographies and news can be found. Focus on the Family’s reviews the hottest teen CDs weekly and offers a free extensive archive.
  • Return policies. Despite our best intentions, sometimes bad music sneaks in the door. The band’s hit single was innocent enough, but the rest of the CD was another story. Or Aunt Millie sent a real surprise gift. Some music outlets will allow a parent to return an objectionable CD.

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