When I first started listening to my own music in the early 60’s (rock n’ roll & blues), I remember my father asking me why I liked Carlos Santana so much. I told him I especially loved the rhythm because it always made me feel happier. Although he preferred to listen to the news or sports on the car radio, he never got upset if I put on “my music.”
One of the biggest concerns that today’s parents have is the type of music their sons are listening to. As a coach who helps parents more effectively deal with their challenging teenage sons, I often hear parents complain about the negative messages that rap and hip-hop music is continually delivering to their sons brains.
I think it’s fair to say that most young men who are difficult or defiant tend to listen to music that contains aggressive lyrics. A study performed by the American Psychological Association showed that children who listen to music with violent words tend to be more socially combative.
Although the authors said more research is needed, they stated “it is possible that the effects of violent songs may last only a fairly short time.”
Thankfully, this turned out to be true with my own teenage son, Gabe.
How I Handled Hip-Hop with Gabe & His Friends
Gabe, who is now 31 years old and a hip-hop producer in the Bay Area, began listening to rap music as a preteen. I was truly appalled at the lyrics. Being a musician myself, I enjoyed some of the rhythms in the songs, but the harsh words shocked me.
I can remember driving in the car, listening to the music I liked: Caribbean, African, rock ‘n roll and new age. Of course, Gabe and his pals would want to put on their favorite rap and hip-hop songs. I quickly learned that making them wrong about their music choices only alienated them from me.
I decided to relax when it was their turn to play music and simply asked them questions about the meaning of the songs. Instead of being a complaining, grumpy old guy, I was now just another dude having a conversation with them about something they cared about.
Turning Questions into Life Lessons
Without anger or needing to prove a point, these were some of the questions I asked them:
1) What do the young women that you hang out with think of this music?
2) How do your girlfriends feel about being perceived as nothing more than sex objects?
3) What would it be like for you if you really killed somebody just because you were angry at them?
4) Would you rather be in jail with truly dangerous people or at home with parents you think are dumb?
5) Have you ever been involved in a real fight? If so, what was it like to win, or lose?
6) Will you respect yourself more if you need to live in your parents’ home when you’re 25 years old, or more, if you were able to afford your own home?
Most of the time my son and his friends would answer that they knew the songs were fiction, or were about other young men who had dramatically different lives than them.
I would remind them that they were already being adversely affected by the music because they tended not to do well in school, go out and get part-time jobs, smoke pot too much, or not contribute around the house.
Here’s How It Turned Out
Ultimately, I could only tell them what was true for me about the music and how I could see that it did not help them be happier or more productive. My essential challenge to them was look at how they were simply copycatting other people, and not willing to discover who they actually were. I always supported them to participate more frequently in the hobbies they enjoyed and focus on the things they could do to be more authentic.
By keeping my comments to just a few sentences, and not reacting negatively to them, I trusted that they would hear my words – even though they would appear not to be listening, let alone agree with me.
All of the young men that my son hung out with have turned out to the fine adult men. They have good jobs, some are married – some now have children - and they are still close with their families. Most importantly, they discovered their own values and created lifestyles that demonstrate those values.
Gabe and I live just a few miles apart and we’re the best of friends. We get together once a week at his studio, where he produces my music. At the end of each session, we go outside and play catch or throw the Frisbee for 10 minutes. We still go to sporting events together. And the best part of our relationship is that we care for Becca (my daughter) and Suzanne (my former wife), with a loving heart and protective eyes.
Parents, please remember that your sons will develop the intelligence to know that unhealthy lyrics are not a prescription for their poor behaviors. Be calm and consistently clear about the healthy behaviors you expect them to abide by in your home, and they’ll eventually get it right.
Originally posted on The Good Men Project