Written by Jill Morgenstern
My four-year-old practically danced into the car as she left her play date. “Since I’m not allowed to watch Spy Kids at home,” she said, “we watched it here at Julie’s house.”
Yes, my kids are those kids. The ones who have to be almost 13 before they’re allowed to watch a PG-13 movie. The kids who are only allowed to watch age appropriate TV, on the weekends. My kids never cursed, and the older ones still don’t, as far as I know. Not because a well-placed swear word is a horrible thing, but because they didn’t hear it growing up. Not on TV and almost never from me.
However, music is another story. Something I wouldn’t allow my children to watch on TV is fair game as long as it has a tune attached.
I don’t shelter my children from music because I believe a world of music is one that is too important to forgo.
Research is just beginning to address the quantifiable benefits of music. If the many recent articles and studies are to believed, music can increase everything from listening skills and pattern recognition to scores on standardized tests. But there are more intuitive reasons to allow children free access to any and all types of music. Music connects people. It opens up uncharted territory in the soul and gives a name to feelings people don’t even know they have. It can help ease a sour mood, cement a memory, or lift up a prayer.
Through music, children not only internalize their own culture, but learn about other cultures as well.
Some of my best memories with my children are taking them to smaller music venues where they could comfortably listen to and learn about music. We’ve enjoyed intimate shows where the performers knew us by name, as well as music festivals so large that the stages spanned several city blocks. We’ve made day trips to see a bluegrass society where my children watched the speed of the banjos with awe. We’ve even delighted in the children’s opera at the library, and another time headed downtown to see the band Vampire Weekend.
My children enjoy everything from folk music, to rock and roll, to show tunes. I even quiz my kids to make sure they know the musicians I love. We’ve listened to everything on the radio and then some, including seamier music my goddaughter favored. Because no matter how far children’s music has come, or how great a guy children’s musician Raffi is, it’s practically inhumane to confine children to the likes of Barney and Friends or The Wiggles.
Since most of the music I enjoy can contain subject matter inappropriate for children, I’ve felt I’ve had to rationalize my leniency in letting my children listen to things I would never let them watch on TV. I believe music only enters in through one of the senses. It is not the all encompassing experience of a movie unless one wants it to be, and most times kids aren’t paying that much attention. A certain song might be murderous or full of drug references, but younger kids might not catch on until they’re well into their teens or twenties. The risks seem small in comparison to the innumerable benefits.
To me, sheltering my children from good or popular music would be like protecting them from books. Not every single idea in every book ever written is an idea I necessarily condone, but the realm of possibilities is too broad to want to narrow.
To teach a child about music is to open doors for them, set them on a path to exploration, and gift them one of the great joys in life.
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About the Author: Jill Morgenstern is a wife, mother, and teacher. She has four kids ages 27 to two, 13 years of teaching experience, and a Master’s Degree in Teaching Reading, yet reserves the right to be wrong about everything. She writes about food, family, and the ridiculous at Do Try This at Home.