It was summer 1987, I was weeks away from 7th grade and my friend’s older sister had just snagged the newest George Michael cassette. We waited patiently for her to leave so we could sneak in her room and listen to the masterpiece. Our innocence was about to be shattered!
George Michael had just released his newest album, Faith, and did the unspeakable by including the song “I Want Your Sex” on the album. It was the first time the word “sex” was used in the title of a chart-topping song and it caused major controversy. My mom didn’t specifically tell me I couldn’t listen to it, but all the media attention around it did.
I was far too young and naive to be exposed to lyrics that were so wrong. The song was going to shatter my innocence and fill my mind with evil thoughts.
Why I Started Listening to My Son’s Music
We, of course, loved the song. We listened over and over, memorizing the words and sang them with conviction. I am sure we thought we knew what the song was about, but in reality, we had no idea and we didn’t care. It was a popular new song, it was taboo to be listening to it & that made us part of the cool club.
In the summer of 2016, my son followed my footsteps. It was the summer before 7th grade and he was excited to play me some of his new music. Other than pausing for the cuss words, he sang every word. Like me years before, he had no idea what the song was about and felt cool for listening to it. I had a moment of mom guilt…I think I was supposed to be upset, tell him not to listen, block the songs from his playlist and keep a watchful eye that he never listened to the songs again.
In reality, I was unfazed. It was a catchy song, with easy to memorize lyrics and, in total honesty, I liked it too. I caught the sexual innuendos and understood the meaning behind them…my son had no idea; he just liked the song.
That evening I told my husband about our sons’ music choices. He had already heard all the songs and, like me, was not concerned. Together we decided he needed to download only the clean version of songs. We were aware he knew the “real” version, but society frowned on “real” version so we followed suit.
The BIG difference, there was no threat to my husband being “dad shamed” for allowing our son to listen. That never even entered his mind and he told me to not worry about what other people thought…our kid, our decision.
Real or perceived, I felt judged for letting him listen to the music.
- I would remind people that every generation feels their kids will be destroyed by their choice of music. The response: “music today is way worse than what we listened to.”
- I would say that he was going to hear the music in other settings and at least I knew what he was listening too. The response: “he may hear it elsewhere, but you can still teach him that it’s wrong.”
- I mentioned that with open communication about the music he would be able to come talk to me if he heard something he didn’t understand. The response: “if he never heard the music, he wouldn’t have those ideas put in his head and therefore the conversation wouldn’t need to happen.”
I felt ashamed for not having a problem with my sons’ music and I learned quickly that is was best to just keep my mouth shut. When the conversation came up, I would nod here, maybe say something like “I hear you” all the while living a double life. No one knew that I was secretly cranking the music up with my son, singing along, laughing and making great memories. That was my dirty little secret.
As my son got older, we continued to loosen our already too loose grip on his music. He stopped downloading the clean versions, he knew the other version anyway. We were sure to set boundaries and discuss that not all parents felt like we did.
It was established that he would be respectful of the decisions of other parents. The clean version would be played when needed…I had no plans of being “that mom” and letting kids break the rules in my car. Occasionally one of his friends would say “it’s okay, my dad lets me listen to the real version and we just don’t tell my mom.” NOPE! Not in my car! In my car, we follow your parents’ rules and don’t encourage lying to moms. (The fact that it is okay to just “not tell mom” makes my blood boil! You do not even want to get me started on that soapbox…trust me!!)
As a parent, our list of worries and concerns is long. We have the same issues that generations of parents before us have had and a few new things, like social media, ever-present cameras and instant access to everything. Despite our best efforts, we will never be able to shield our kids from all of the world’s evil. So instead of hiding, I have decided to face it head-on, to have open and honest conversations. Even when the conversations are a bit uncomfortable.
I want to encourage you to break the mold, to look at things differently. My parents did a dang good job raising me, but I do not have to raise my kids exactly as they did. I can explore new options and new ideas. I can parent my child for him and not to the societal norms that have been set.
I know my son. I know his heart and his mind. We have open lines of communication and nothing, no matter how taboo, is ever off the table. I trust his decisions and admire his character. I made a decision based on my child, not on what society told me was right. And not just on music, but on the movies and TV shows he watches, the books he reads…on life.
I stopped letting the fear of being mom-shamed make my parenting decisions. I have learned to trust myself, the person that was chosen to and blessed with the gift and responsibility of raising this child, with parenting decisions. Learning to trust myself was the most freeing thing I have ever done as a mom.
I was discussing this post with my son and he said “mom, the music we listen to doesn’t make our choices, we make our choices. People who only listen to the best of music can still make the worst of decisions.” I would encourage you to stop banning, blocking, censoring and start listening, talking, discussing…the results will be amazing.
For the record, we are not a free-for-all house. We have boundaries and rules; we say no and we certainly shut it down when things cross the line. Our kids ask permission if ratings are beyond their age and are comfortable talking with us about almost any topic.
If you choose a similar path as us, I encourage you to occasionally pause the music and ask your kids what it is about. Want to have a really good laugh? Push yourself out of your comfort zone and do it during the seediest of lyrics. If they are too embarrassed to answer, take the time to explain exactly what the lyrics are talking about. It will likely be a very memorable birds and bees conversation and hopefully, show your teen you are serious when you say they can talk to you about anything.
April Sailsbury is a mother of two teenagers, a son, and a daughter. She has a straight forward and often humorous approach to parenting that sometimes challenges societal norms. She loves reading advice from other parents and then modifies that advice to fit her family and her children. Like most moms, she questions her own parenting decisions daily and prays that she is not raising kids that will need counseling to undo any of the things she has done. She is never afraid to admit and own mistakes. She spends her days soaking up every minute she has with her kids while also finding time to also focus on her marriage.
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