Friday, March 7, 2014

How To Avoid Creating Pop Monsters

The other day, I heard a mother complaining about the music her four-year-old listens to. "Oh, it's all about Justin Bieber, to her..." she said, brimming with weary-parent frustration. "She has to have the shirts and the posters and..." question is: How did this happen?

She's four.

You, too, can help your kids choose this...
I've posted about parental doubt, parental mistakes and the occasional parental success on here from time to time. (In fact, my last post was an admission of failure. So far.) But, I just have to wonder how a four-year-old "gets into" music that a parent didn't encourage in some way.

Where does a kid who is not yet even in school get the idea to listen to the hottest pop stuff going? TV? That has to be it, I suppose; short of intentional parental conditioning: Listen to your Bieber young lady! Sure. It has to be TV -- but, we can control that, too, right? It's not that much work to do.

My wife and I knew all about Nickelodeon and Noggin when the boys were little and we would put on select shows for them. We also filtered shows out, usually on the grounds of not so much content as "insanity-level:" noise and visual chaos.) In short, if it disturbed us to watch, we wouldn't put it on for them. There was never any conflict over this. The boys didn't know the difference.

Then, they got older and started picking their own shows. That's when I made a point to commit to something: If I don't know the names of the characters on the shows my kids watch, I am doing something wrong as a dad.  So I would watch Spongebob (which I came to love) and iCarly and Fairly Odd Parents (which I also came to love). I even sat through the occasional episode of Big Time Rush. And when I was annoyed or when I disagreed with a scenario, I would bring it up as a discussion, usually carefully crafted to get them to think in the direction I wanted them to. I even pointed out that Big Time Rush was just a pale imitation of The Monkees, then showed them some episodes, which they thought were better; their interest in both dwindled quickly. (They were little kids. The time for independent thought had not yet kicked in, as far as I am concerned. We need to give them a foundation of sound ideas to later build opinions upon, but that is a whole other post.)

If I saw a band on a show like iCarly or Victorious, I would point out when they were faking playing along with a recording. This was usually enough for my kids to determine that they were not interested in such phonies. When a band really played and when they were decent musicians, even if I didn't like the stuff, I would point that out, too. This had the desired effect.
...over this.

There was never any Disney Channel in our house. I mean, it was there, but no one watched it. That's the real pop-monster factory. We just steered away from it. The boys never asked. We all love the classic Disney movies and we have made our pilgrimage to Disneyland (World -- whatever. I can never remember which one it is in Florida...) but the boys were never exposed to the Brittany Spears(es) to be and the seed-planting that is so obvious in Disney Channel's agenda.

Little suggestions make it so easy. I would always make it a point to mention the scores in films, especially John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith, two of my own musical heroes. Guess what? Without pushing; without forcing; without much effort, both of the boys listen, now, to primarily orchestral music (despite my older son's music teacher's befuddling efforts to convince the kids who ask to hear orchestral music that their "attentions spans are not ready for that yet").

This morning, we announced to the boys that we booked tickets to the Philly Pops concert of the film music of John Williams. My nine-year-old mock-fainted at my feet and my twelve-year-old yelled out a hearty Awesome!

My point is, you can't contribute to the manufacturing of crowd-following pop monsters and then complain about it. Well, you can, but if you do you would be a dimwit.


  1. I listened to Ferde Grofé's Grand Canyon Suite, at nine, maybe ten years old, being introduced to it in a public school music class.

    It was a very long time ago, though. Maybe times are different today, but I doubt it. Kids are kids; they still like to be introduced to things that surprise them.

    1. Hi, Elsa Louise. I sure wish our public school's music teacher had more confidence in his students. But at least I know my sons are hearing the good stuff at home... I agree with you -- kids would definitely enjoy hearing things thast are not expected and foisted upon them by pop cultuer -- if we would just give them a shot.