When my daughter was in fifth grade and my son in second, I signed them up for once-a-week piano lessons. We didn't even have a piano back then, instead they would practice on an inexpensive keyboard until one or both of them showed the talent and motivation to play. The big piano purchase would have to wait.
My husband and I shared the dream of a home filled with music. It's a vital part of the fabric of every culture and we wanted it to be a major element of our family life. And whether or not your child plays an instrument or sings, even a young child can learn to use music to enhance feelings or use music to change a mood.
Exposure to music has always enhanced how a child thinks and learns. It's an effective stress reliever and allows everyone in the family a creative way to deal with feelings, handle stress, or just connect with each other.
Today, music may well be the most powerful form of media that your child consumes. So, the new family life challenge posed by the sometimes extreme pop music culture is that you are increasingly called on to encourage a love of music while limiting exposure to music with offensive content and questionable values.
While music has changed, musical expression like any art form has always pushed the envelope. There was a time when the Beatles' hair and Elvis' pelvis had previous generations rocking. Today, your child is exposed to music that goes beyond artistic self-expression with just style and attitude. Music with disrespectful language, violent and sexualized content, and lyrics that degrade women and the family are commonplace.
And while you might find it easier to introduce music you approve of to your child when she is young, you might find it getting increasingly difficult to monitor your child's music choices the older she gets. Do you feel overwhelmed with how much advertising is aimed directly at your child as a consumer of music? Do other parents reinforce the myth that there isn't much you can do about the negative popular music your child is exposed to?
If you have these concerns take heart. The American Academy for Child and Adolescent Psychiatry publishes materials that state that music is more positive than negative for the child whose life is generally happy and healthy.
The only time to be concerned is when a child becomes preoccupied with music that has destructive themes and a parent notices serious changes in behavior. Yet, the proactive parent doesn't wait until these concerns arise.
You can take positive active steps right now to assure that every member of the family learns to love all kinds of music while at the same time limit exposure to music you find objectionable.
Strategies for creating memorable music experiences
Whether your child is a preschooler or entering early adolescence, expose your child to a variety of music types. Listen to classical music over dinner or sing folk songs when you go camping. But make sure you show your child that music of all types adds richness to living.
When you make music a part of everyday family life, you will have more of an opportunity to share the music you like and listen to the music your child likes. Everyone need not love every type of music but having the opportunity to listen together will provide you with the opportunity to talk about what makes a song or an artist a good one.
When you and your child openly talk about music with opinions and feelings easily shared, you have a better chance to discuss the ground rules for music selection. You will need to share which artists are off limits and perhaps teach your child how to read Parent Advisory Labels.
A note of caution here though, your child will respond best to your limits if you also discuss what he can choose. Many a parent sets limits by only discussing what a child can't do; making whatever is off limits more attractive. You might say, "I don't feel comfortable with [fill in the artist], but you can listen to [fill in the artist]."
In order to teach your child about the music you find acceptable and unacceptable, you'll need to do your homework. Go online and use sites that help you make an informed decision. Find out your local music store's return policy. And if your child downloads music online, you'll need to create groundrules for checking, approving and/or deleting.
Be sure to pick your battles though; not all the music your child listens to will fill you with peace and joy. As long as you don't object to the language and the content, you might consider letting your child have a few wins.
Monitoring exposure takes time. Surely, it is important to limit exposure when you can, especially when your child is young. Limiting exposure gets trickier as your child gets older, but you can and should still do this most important work.
Talk about how and why artists go to extremes to get the attention of young listeners. Take the time to teach your child how to be a savvy consumer. Keeping the door to communication open about music and its influence on values will be well worth your efforts.
Little did I know back when I bought that inexpensive keyboard and introduced the piano to my children, that my daughter would major in music education and become a lyric soprano performing in classical concerts and that my son would major in jazz piano and sound recording. Dream come true--our home is indeed filled with the sound music.
Lynne Griffin teaches family studies at the graduate level and she's the author of the parenting guide Negotiation Generation, and the family novels Sea Escape and Life Without Summer. You can find her online at www.LynneGriffin.com, at www.Twitter.com/Lynne_Griffin and at www.Facebook.com/LynneGriffin.