When parents ask questions like these, I can't offer definitive answers. So much depends on the particular teen and the state of the heart. But two lessons from my past have encouraged me to venture boldly with my sons into the realm of their generation’s music.
The first is not to fear. God already knows what’s out there, and is creative enough to use it in the divine pursuit of the human soul.
During my high school years, I memorized lyrics by musicians like the Beatles, Cat Stevens, the Who, and of course, the Rolling Stones. Later, while studying overseas in Europe, in the throes of a search for spiritual truth, I visited the site in Moscow where the Czar and his relatives had been brutally murdered. I’d been wrestling with the question of human suffering, but didn’t consider that a diabolical, personal enemy might be playing a significant role behind the scenes.
I wandered through the opulent galleries of the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, replete with art commandeered from the Hitler and the Nazis. Portrait after painting after mural depicted the suffering of Christ. One particular piece caught my eye — a rendition of Jesus agonizing in a garden. Instantly, the words to a Rolling Stones’ song sang through my mind: “I was around when Jesus Christ had his moments of doubt and pain. Killed the Czar and his ministers; Anastasia screamed in vain.” Sympathy for the Devil, the song was titled.
Suddenly, I was electrified by the possible existence of an evil tempter who delighted in human suffering — and especially in the suffering of one particular Man. While this example may sound trivial in the re-telling, I know that God was powerful enough to use Mick Jagger’s song in my journey of faith. The same can happen with today's music and this generation.
The second lesson is that regular parental companionship is crucial.
When I was about twelve, I was belting out a hit song in the shower: “Having my ba-a-aby. I’m a woman in love and I love what’s going through me. Having my ba-a-aby. What a lovely way to say how much you love me.” Paul Anka’s song was playing non-stop on the radio and the catchy tune engraved the words in my mind.
Leaving the bathroom, I overheard my parents talking (in Bengali, my mother tongue):
“What is this ‘having my baby’ song?”
“Oh my goodness. Do you think she knows about what she is singing?”
Mortified, I realized how the words of the song had sounded to my parents’ ears. I wasn’t having anybody’s baby, for goodness’ sake. Why, then, was I singing about it at the top of my lungs? Thanks to the magic of listening through my parent’s ears, I was confronted with the absurdity of one particular song’s lyrics.
As we accompany our children into the world of music, everybody's hearing is sharpened. Our presence in listening to their generation's music, perhaps even more than our opinions, provides clarity in their process of discernment. This means reading the lyrics on CD jackets, looking them up on the internet, and tuning into their radio station in the car -- even when they're not around. And talking about it.
Music is powerful, as Martin Luther noted:
For whether you wish to comfort the sad, terrify the happy, encourage the despairing, humble the proud, calm the passionate, or appease those full of hate — and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good? — what more effective means than music could you find?So should you ban that radio station? I have no idea. But I can encourage you not to fear the unknown, because God can use all things for good purpose. I can also tell to travel with your teen as much as possible into pop culture. Where two or more are gathered in Jesus' name, He promises his company, too.
And who knows? You might even find yourself belting out some catchy new tune in the shower. A word of warning, though: once you start calling your wife "shorty" or "boo," you've gone too far. Your exasperated teen will be forced to rebel by downloading the Best of Bach.