I love music. I listen to it at home; we have family dance parties; I listen to it at work; it comes up in sessions with many of my clients; I talk about it as a skill or tool; and I’m listening to it right now as I type. It speaks to me –to most people I think – and can have an impact on our mood and actions. I use it to communicate affection with my spouse, playfulness with my children, and I encourage clients to listen to upbeat music to evoke an opposite mood or emotion in a skill called Act Opposite, or to use it as a distraction when trying to surf an urge.
Music can evoke emotions, memories and spiritual or social connectedness, as well as provide a means of expressing feelings and a sense of safety, security and comfort. Whether it’s for relaxation, a means of learning, to enhance relationships, to express emotions, or for pure enjoyment, it is the one medium that cuts through the boundaries of age, culture, disability and disease. It gets downloaded, swapped, composed, played, listened to, forms the background to video games, movies, and television shows, and is at the center of many social interactions and popular culture movements.
Listening to and talking about your child or teens’ music is a great way to ensure that your voice is one of the loudest ones they hear because almost nothing comes between kids and their music. Know what your children are listening to, listen along with them, and learn the lyrics. After all, music is expression…and we want our kids expressing themselves authentically and honestly.
Studies have shown that children and adolescents are affected by the music they listen to, and while chances are good that you can’t choose what your kids listen to, you can counter-balance the messages they hear and help them develop critical-thinking skills. Think of it as “lyrical literacy.” 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 – and then take turns as you move to partial control of the playlist. My son currently does an awesome slam dance head bang to Bastille and Mumford & Sons. And it doesn’t have to stop at songs, as music videos and the lives of celebrity musicians can be up for discussion as well.
What does lyrical literacy look like in practice? I came across an article that suggested the following:
Tips for parents of elementary school kids:
• Be a model for tame music: Your child will sing along with whatever you select, so make sure you choose songs with lyrics you won’t mind your child repeating if you aren’t around.
•Take note of what they’re downloading and ask them to play their favourite songs for you.
• Enjoy music together.
Tips for parents of middle and high school kids:
• Do your homework before your kids buy CDs or downloaded music.
• Make some downloading rules and discourage stealing music.
• Enjoy music together: Ask your son to plug in his iPod on the next family road trip, or have your daughter burn you a CD of her music for your car. Not only will you get a better idea of what they’re being exposed to, but you may also improve your relationship with them. When you show interest in their world, they might be more open to hearing your opinions.
• Discuss music messages without being too judgmental, including teaching them to ask questions of the messages they’re hearing.
Eryn Wicker (M.A., RCC) is a mental health clinician with the Child and Youth Mental Health team with the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Chilliwack, BC.