My kids are now too old for Raffi, so I want to introduce them to some new, hip music with positive social messages. Is there good messaging in cool music that kids listen to nowadays?
Yes. There are loads of great artists with pro-social messages – from Canadian acts like K'naan and k-os, to international stars Jason Mraz, Xavier Rudd and India Arie.
Of course, as kids get older – especially in the age of iPods and downloading – trying to influence their musical choices will likely have the opposite effect. Adolescent tastes in tunes are highly personal as they strive to differentiate their identity, mostly in relation to their parents.
We went through our various adolescent music stages – our favourites were the Beastie Boys and Guns 'n' Roses – and when we listen to some of those old CDs, we're stunned that we ever sang those lyrics full-throttle.
The parents we meet worry about raunchy sexuality in the mainstream music their pre-teens recite without a second thought. Their fears are not unfounded: A 2006 study in the journal Pediatrics found that listening to music with degrading sexual messages made teens twice as likely to start sexual activity early.
Introduce some "lyrical literacy" at a young age: Talk to your kids about the subject matter of the songs – good and bad. Ask what they think the song is about, and weigh in with your perspective. Explain references to drugs, violence or sexuality, and the wider issues they represent. And don't stop at the songs: Music videos and the personal lives of celebrity musicians reinforce those lyrical messages.
A friend of ours watches the Grammy Awards with her teenage daughters every year and talks about the underlying storylines as a kind of morality play. This year, Whitney Houston's passing represented the dangers of drug addiction. When Chris Brown got a Grammy and standing ovation two years after making headlines for abusing his girlfriend Rihanna, our friend discussed violence against women and the idea of redemption. When Adele swept up numerous awards, it was the story of a great voice winning out over hyper-sexualized songs and singers.
Chances are you can't choose what your kids listen to, but you can counter-balance the messages they hear, and help them develop critical-thinking skills. And take advantage of those years when you have full control of the radio dial / iPod playlist, by mixing in some positive, popular adult music – from a range of genres – with the Raffi. A friend of ours ends his kids' days with a dance party featuring the very hip and very pro-social Michael Franti (his oldest son, age 4, now insists on it).
With cool and positive role models like K'Naan, the Somali-born rapper from Toronto who wrote the epic song Wavin' Flag, talking to your kids about the music they like doesn't have to be hard.