Music to My Ears

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Can you shape your children's taste in music? The jury is still out on that one, at least for me. I have done "modern-day research" (Googled it here and there), and it seems like there are a couple hard-core camps out there weighing in on that question. You have the militia moms who monitor the heck out of the music that pours from home or car speakers, and then there's the group of parents who trust their kids to navigate the suggestive lyrical landscape. Where do I land when it comes to steering my two boys to what I define as quality music? And really, what (if any) bearing does that have on where my kids will end up one day, as I picture them, driving down life's country road with the windows down and landing on a radio station that says, "This is who I am for the long drive ahead."

Let's first begin with who I am. Right now, I am Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes with Rhiannon Giddon's soulful version of Lost on the River. Add to that Marcus Mumford's rendition of Kansas City. But a year and half ago, I was Justin Timberlake's 20/20 Experience. At 13, I was the Styx with Too Much Time on My Hands. But back that up to 10 years old,  and I was all Nick Gilder's Hot Child in the City.

Whatever parents do -- or don't do -- to shape their children's musical taste, our children will find what they like. - PHOTO BY VALERIE EVERETT
  • Photo by Valerie Everett
  • Whatever parents do -- or don't do -- to shape their children's musical taste, our children will find what they like.

Currently, my 10-year-old son is Radio Station Alt 103.3, digging Fall Out Boy's Centuries, while my 13-year-old has compiled playlists of rap and R&B, and he favors Big Sean and Lil Wayne. There are times I wonder how this happened. There are times I cringe that this is happening. But I'm sure my parents felt the same way and my parents' parents and so on.

We have a pretty quiet household if you exclude the indoor games of basketball, sibling fights and the barking dogs. We play music on occasion, but it isn't something continuously in the background to our daily living. Mostly we turn on the radio or slide a CD into the player while driving from Point A to Point B. And we take turns.

Sometimes William will plug in his phone to the aux cord and select less-explicit versions of his favorites for me to hear. When the occasional off-color word drops, William glances at me sideways, but I assure him I have heard it before. Meanwhile, George sits in the backseat oblivious to what's happening up front.

 When it is George's turn, I will punch the select button until we settle on a song he likes. He prefers distorted guitar sounds and a defiant attitude in the lyrics. (Gulp.)

When my kids were little, I started out like most parents with younger children. I was enthusiastic and wanted to make every move in my child's development the right one, including their exposure to music. I played classical selections and then bought into those CDs that featured kids signing the classics. And while I still am fully "in the game" of raising my kids (Full disclosure: I do NOT have as much energy as I used to.), I look back and wonder why I didn't just play the classics like The Beatles singing the Beatles in the first place. But no, instead I went for those high-pitched, affected kid voices. I'm happy to say that while I have traded in my smooth skin for crow's feet, I have also accrued a bit more wisdom in this arena.

Now when it's my turn for some ownership of the car stereo, I do my best to slip in some upbeat jazz such as Feeling Good - Bassnectar Remix or a little modern-day bluegrass like Punch Brothers. Maybe something from who I am on that day will seep into who they are that day and all the days to follow. Conversely, when they have their musical choice, maybe it will work the other way around.

Whatever parents do -- or don't do -- to shape their children's musical taste, our children will find what they like. Perhaps all we need to do as parents is to open the doors for our children, introduce them to various genres and let them explore music at their leisure, at their own pace, letting them move from being one thing on this day to yet another thing the next. And when my oldest invites me into his room to have me listen to Uppers or Million Trillion, I don't cringe anymore. The invitation to listen together is simply music to my ears.

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