Music Standards for Adolescents

Is there any way we can limit or control the kind of music our teenager listens to? I could really use some help setting fair and reasonable standards in this area. I'm disturbed by some of the "artists" he likes, the image they project, and the lyrics of the songs they sing. What should I do?

This is no easy task, but it is necessary and extremely important. Your teen needs to understand the values, standards, and moral guidelines that define your family’s beliefs and govern your home. A frank discussion of music and entertainment choices can provide you with the perfect opportunity to bring up the subject and lay some of these issues on the table.

We suggest that you sit down with your teen and speak candidly about your concerns. Try to do this in a non-threatening way. Approach the conversation with an attitude that encourages rather than squelches communication. Don’t lecture, blame, or condemn. Don’t be too hard on anybody, including yourself. Be patient and ready to listen. And remember that there’s something more important at stake here than simply – namely, your long-term relationship with your teen. You don’t want to make your case about music at the cost of alienating your child.

When you’ve taken time to hear what she’s thinking, state your own position as calmly and carefully as possible. Here are a few important points you’ll want to include. First, as a parent, you have the right to limit what comes into your home (whether it’s played openly or on headphones). Don’t get sidetracked by arguments about “privacy” or “rights.” As a dependent minor living under your guardianship, your teenager’s “rights” are subject to limitations.

Next, communicate clearly what’s in and out of bounds, and be sure to explain why. This may require some in-depth research on your part. Be careful to focus on lyrics rather than musical style. You’re entitled to your own biases – for example, you may not like rap or hip hop – but the standard you articulate should reflect content rather than stylistic preferences. Take time to read song lyrics together and talk about them before making your final decisions.

Once you’ve established a standard, take pains to communicate it in plain, understandable English. Put it in writing if you think this might be helpful. In the beginning you may want to pre-approve music purchases until you think your teen understands and has had a chance to internalize the criteria. Be ready to return CDs that don’t measure up (many music stores allow this). Later on, if your child buys a CD that fails the test, she’ll be faced with the tough choice of exchanging it or simply losing the cash. Some of the music acquired prior to your setting the household standard could be handled as negotiable – as a gesture of good faith, you might opt to replace those CDs with approved discs or buy them back at a depreciated rate. This can be a difficult part of the process for both of you, so be patient and keep the lines of communication open.

Finally, realize your limitations. You aren’t going to be able to re-shape your child’s entire music diet. You can’t be with her everywhere she goes, and you certainly aren’t in a position to dictate her likes and dislikes. So try to focus on those portions of her environment that you can control: your home and your car. The goal is to teach discernment, not enforce a legalistic code. Like every other task a parent takes on, this one should be approached with patience, understanding, and love.

If you’d like to discuss these concerns at greater length with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.


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