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Letting Kids Make Their Own Choices — #1

Sometimes, parenting is simple. When little three-year-old Jimmy scampers out to the curb, curls his toes over the edge, and prepares to jump into oncoming traffic, the response is obvious. You rear back and yell


Then you rush to him, yank him back, lecture him on the physics of impact, and give him a giant hug. spanking1.jpgBecause, after all, you never wanna lose lil’ Jimmy.

But when sixteen-year-old Jimmy struts into the house with his sagging jeans, sloppy-chic do, and raunchy CD, that doesn’t always work.

I’ve heard parenting is like a funnel: the narrow end is adolescence, the broad, adulthood. When our kids are younger, we need a tighter grip. A shorter leash. At this stage we must, more often, rush over and lecture them about oncoming traffic. About morality and courtesy and safety. However, the older our kids get, the broader the funnel becomes, the less control we have. Here, the lessons of adolescence must be applied. And we cannot do that for them.

MP0227~Parental-Advisory-Explicit-Lyrics-Posters.jpgBut this is scary.

A while back, Chris came home with a CD that had a Parental Advisory tag on it. He was, like, 16 or 17. I think it was a Korn album. Korn is not a Christian band, but I like the rapcore sound and, somehow, Chris had also acquired the taste. Weird, huh? We regularly swap music and I discovered his disc. So what do I do?

  1. Yank him from the curb and lecture him about the physics of impact
  2. Berate him for his vile choices of immoral music
  3. Swap blunts and rock out together
  4. Confiscate the Korn CD

I chose none of the above.

Here’s what I did: I spoke to him about the message of the music. We must separate what the musicians are saying from what the musicians are playing. Good music can convey a bad message. And then — this is important — I let him keep the CD.

From my perspective, many Christian parents have a hard time letting go of their kids. It’s understandable. The world is evil and so much can happen. Besides, we are commissioned by God to “train a child in the way he should go” (Prov. 22:6), and training is not “hands off.” So we nurture them, Img_2450a.jpgdiscipline them, pour our lives into them. And then they bring home purple hair, nose rings, and Korn CD’s.

It is much easier to forbid purple hair and nose rings than to provide compelling reasons to abstain from them. . . other than, simply, “because I said so.” It is much easier to trash our kid’s bad CD’s than allow them to make their own minds up. It is much easier to snatch the Harry Potter books than teach our kids discernment.

Yet there is strength in giving them freedom.

The world is the crucible for faith — that’s where it’s tried and tested. And genuine faith will overcome the world. So our goal as parents is not to manipulate our children’s’ every step, but to cultivate genuine faith. And genuine faith cannot be reproduced without genuine freedom. Chris cannot get into heaven on the faith of his father. He must believe. But, in order to do this, he must have the freedom to think, to choose, and to fail. And isn’t this what God did? He told His children what was right, gave them a choice, and then loved them through the consequences.

Nevertheless, Hell is a consequence of freedom. Letting our kids make their own choices implies the possibility of Hell. And this is the hardest thing a parent must face.

Continued. . .

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{ 18 comments… add one }
  • Michelle Pendergrass July 23, 2007, 1:21 PM

    I’ll be looking forward to the next part of your post. I was going to blog about Korn…

  • Michael Ehret July 23, 2007, 3:00 PM

    I find this interesting, M.D.:

    M.D.: Here’s what I did: I spoke to him about the message of the music. We must separate what the musicians are saying from what the musicians are playing. Good music can convey a bad message. And then — this is important — I let him keep the CD.

    Now I’m back: I’m a bit troubled by your assertion that we separate what they musicians are saying from what they are playing. I’m not sure why. But I’m not sure that can be done.

    It’s music AND lyrics that make the song, any song. That make it what it is. And I’ve certainly heard music, sans words, that created a feeling of foreboding, even evil, in me as a listener. Never heard Korn, don’t care to. But I do wonder about that separating statement. I agree with the rest of what you said in that graph. Yes, talk about the message in the lyrics. Yes let them keep the CD. Yes for the same reasons — they have to decide for themselves. But separate the music from the lyrics? I can’t quite agree with that.

    I have always seen the overall msg of a song as being tied together in words AND music. And I certainly think artists conceive of them that way. In fact, I’ve heard songwriters say the same exact thing: I had this great melody and I needed to find the right words to fit it. Or, I had these great lyrics, but the song didn’t come together until so and so played me this great riff and then, poof!, there it all was.

    Does this make any sense?

  • Mike Duran July 23, 2007, 4:02 PM

    Great question, Michael. Did you know that the words of Amazing Grace can be sung to the tune of Gilligan’s Island? Go ahead, try it. In fact, I’ve read that the original melody of Amazing Grace was borrowed, probably from Scottish or Irish songs, some of which were sung in pubs. These trivial facts may inch us toward some type of agreement. The message and intent of Amazing Grace are far more important than its music. In fact, the music is rather inconsequential.

    Music, like film, can be separated into multiple components — production quality, instrumentation, vocals, lyrical quality and depth. It’s entirely possible to like certain things about a movie and dislike others. Just because Brokeback Mountain was about a homosexual relationship does not mean the acting or editing or cinematography wasn’t good. Likewise, just because Sympathy for the Devil is an ode to Satan does not mean The Rolling Stones were incompetent musicians. We need not condemn a piece because of bad parts. I like Sufjan Stevens but the production quality of his music isn’t that great. On the other hand, Korn’s production quality is great, but their message is boo-boo.

    No doubt, behind ALL music is some intent — whether it’s to soothe, excite, inspire, or vent. But only lyrics / words can really clarify an artist’s intents. I wouldn’t have known some of Bach’s works dealt with Easter unless he had SAID so. Why? Without words it’s hard to know what the song’s about. I have no problem saying Korn — or any one of a thousand bands — are good musicians. I can appreciate them on that level. But discerning Korn’s message is another story. Yes, a song is both music and message. But, in the end, what the song is ABOUT is way more important than how fast it’s played or what key it’s played in.

  • dayle July 23, 2007, 8:54 PM


    What about the rap music with the clear vulgarities?

    I think my duty as protector of the home would trump letting a child decide. But I think your point of clear communication is not only valid buy required.

    At the least, they wouldn’t be allowed to listen to it in my home or presence, but I think I would go all the way and confiscate it.

    I know the line is subjective, but I believe clear obscenity should cross all of our lines. Maybe Korn can’t be clearly understood and I might give some leeway. Unfortunately, kids usually know all the lyrics.

    I somewhat agree with you, if you don’t know the lyrics, who cares. Springsteen’s Born in the USA is actually slanted to anti-americanism sentiment but the music has such a proud and patriotic sound that many people don’t know it.

    So, … alright I’m confused. What were we talking about?

  • Mike Duran July 24, 2007, 1:48 AM

    Dayle, thanks for sharing. I’d have two responses.

    First, the level of your reaction would have to do with where your kids are at. It’s the “funnel” idea. If they’re 10 or 11 years old it’s totally appropriate to monitor their music. But if they’re 16 and 17, you’re fighting a losing battle. Establishing “morality parameters” must be done early on. After that, it becomes a game of tug-a-war.

    Secondly, it’s wrong to assume rap music is categorically bad. (Not that you actually do, but it’s implied by your question.) There are many sincere, capable, Christian rappers who, once again, prove the genre is not disposable. Rap music is a medium for a message. Instead of forbidding our kids from listening to rap music, it’s way better to give them alternatives. But that would mean having some alternatives in mind.

    Thanks for your comments, Dayle!

  • dayle July 24, 2007, 4:25 PM

    Mike, I was specifically speaking about the vulgarity ridden, anti-women, shoot the cops variety. That gangster rap culture is distinctly tied to its music. But . . .

    I actually used to listen to some Christian rap in my youth. I was also a Run-DMC fan. I’m certainly not against the form. Rap is not inherently bad, it’s what you do with it.

    I’m not suggesting that we dump the entire genre. There are good and bad in all forms of media. But the good and bad are clearly discernable in rap. That was my only point. I’m certainly not going to allow vulgarity-laced music to be played in my home.

    I once bought a Dio album not realizing that it had satanic messages because I couldn’t really understand the lyrics. I liked the music. Then I read the lyrics and threw the album away. I was 15 or 16 at the time. Rap lyrics are much clearer than rock.


  • Melody July 24, 2007, 7:30 PM

    Not fair! When you found my CD with parental advisory on it you broken it front of my face. Hmmm, maybe that’s because I was making other poor choices?
    Well having been a parent for quite so time now, I think I can agree with you. Raise them the best you can and teach them along the way, then let them make the choice. I guess in the end, I turned out alright.

    Thanks Dad


  • Melody July 24, 2007, 7:51 PM

    I love rap music. It’s catchy and has good beats; the words are generally meaningless to me. I have listed to rap and R&B music for a long time and have never let the lyrics change my mentality about anything. I just truly liked the songs. Of course as a teenager I knew all the lyrics but so what. Because I was raised with good morals, music was not enough to affect my way of life.

    I think that you should explain to your kid why you think it’s wrong and tell them you prefer them not to listen to it but let them make their own decision about it. I know that for me, as a teenager to feel empowered to make my own decision was a big deal. The truth is that if your kid really wants to do it they are going to do it regardless of what you say. That’s what kids do. Wouldn’t you rather have an open ended conversation about it with your kid then have them rebel?

    Now that I have a son of my own I can relate with you. I have begun to pay attention to the lyrics of the songs I listen to a little closer. Do I really want my son listening to music about bitches, hoes, playa’s and pimps? No! For myself, I think its time that I grow up in the type of music I listen to. For my son, I hope that I will be able to educate him enough to trust him to make his own decisions. And after all it is just music.


  • Michael Ehret July 24, 2007, 8:16 PM

    But, Melody, it’s NOT “just music.” Or have you not noticed the deep and abiding effect music has on our lives? Music, by itself, creates a mood — but tied with lyrics it can create an indelible memory that is accessed every time you hear the song.

    My mother used to sing “You Are My Sunshine” to me as a child. To this day, I can’t hear that song without feeling all warm, comfortable, and at peace — even in the freezing cold or in the middle of a stressful day. That song still helps me destress. I think of it and I get all warm fuzzy.

    It’s not just music. It’s, in a way, connective tissue.

  • dayle July 24, 2007, 8:27 PM

    Melody, you’re right. They have to make that choice in the long run.

    The only thing I’m advocating is that parents not give up jurisdiction in their own home.

    My dad knew that he couldn’t control everything I listened to, but by taking a stance that it was not acceptable to him and he would not allow it in his “jurisdiction” left a lasting impact on me.

    What I don’t understand is parents who let their children (any age) play music with clear obscenities in their presence and defend it by saying “well, they’re gonna listen to it anyway.” I believe, in my humble opinion, costs those parents the respect of their children.

  • Melody July 24, 2007, 11:39 PM


    When you think about all the evil in the world, all other petty things really don’t matter, therefore, it is “just music”. I disagree because if music is that much of a deep and abiding thing in ones life, enough to affect your mood or state of mind and to cause you distress, then you must have greater problems then the music you are listening to. The music becomes an anchor to help you express your self, rather than the music being the cause.

    I understand your point because there are also songs in my life that connect me to great memories but it’s the thoughts that are associate with the song not merely the song it’s self. I believe that it’s the same for you with the song that your mother sang to you.


  • Melody July 24, 2007, 11:43 PM


    You are also right, you should not have to give up jurisdiction in your own home. What I meant about “their going to listing to it anyway” is that taking it away from them completely probably is not going to happen. If they really want to listen to it they’ll find away to listen to it. If they can not listen to it in your household that’s another story, if your children are going to live in your home they have to play by your rules, if you don’t want to hear their crappy music then you shouldn’t have too. I still think that the child should be able to use their own conscience to decide, which you are saying to.

    Thanks, Melody

  • Jacob July 25, 2007, 2:16 AM


    This is a great post. It must be to get Melody interacting with other bloggers.I enjoyed the banter…

    Melody’s Husband

  • Michael Ehret July 25, 2007, 12:07 PM

    You’re right, Melody. It is the thoughts that are associated with the song that are important. But the music connects you to the thoughts and emotions, good or bad. I have a relative who cannot listen to a certain artists’ music because doing so brings back thoughts and emotions connected to the abuse she suffered from her husband. Is the music bad? No. But it is more than music. It is the “key” that opens that portal of anguish and fear for her.

    Is You Are My Sunshine a great song? No, it’s actually pretty simple and, in repetition, can be insipid. But it is the key that opens a portal to feelings of happiness and comfort for me.

    And no, I don’t agree that one must have “greater problems” if music affects one’s mind or mood. I believe that’s the way God designed us.

    But, back to the point of this post (at least what I remember as the point … ha!) I think Mike D. is right and I think Dayle is right. Parents have to walk a fine line here. It ain’t easy. But I think if your children know your views on what is apporpriate and not in music long before they’re making their own choices, then you will have much less of a problem when they do need to be free to make their own decisions.

    Only once did I have to tell my kids that they could not play an album in my house. I didn’t tell my son he couldn’t buy it, just that he could not listen to it in my house. Now, many years later, I suspect it is a disc, if he even owns it anymore, that he rarely plays. It was a shock value purchase. He didn’t play it in the house, though.

  • Mike Duran July 25, 2007, 1:25 PM

    Melody, welcome to the blogosphere! I don’t recall ever destroying one of your CD’s, but if I did, it was probably for good reason. You and Chris were in two different places and, obviously, I felt you required a heavier hand. But, as you said, you turned out alright.

    You made this statement and it floored me: “I think its time that I grow up in the type of music I listen to.” Hmm. So how would you start? I’d suggest that you begin by reevaluating your opinion that it’s “just music.” I understand that, in the scope of world affairs, music is a minor thing. I also understand that music only fuels existing issues in a person’s life. Nevertheless, I believe that all the arts are powerful / significant tools to shape and express one’s worldview and philosophy of life. While much music is spiritually “neutral”, there are bands and artists who convey and represent significant unbiblical ideas. Part of “growing up” in relation to music enjoyment is developing the discernment to see past these easy generalizations.

    Thanks for chiming in and do it more often. I love you, Meme!

  • Melody July 26, 2007, 3:34 AM

    I agree. I guess I got you guys all hyped up with the its “just music” comment. You will actually be surprised at what I listen to now, Jacob has defiantly broadened my taste in music.

    I can’t wait for your second part of the post.

  • Michael Ehret July 26, 2007, 9:55 AM

    What? Hyped up? Us? you jest.

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