How To Have Conversations…
by Todd Stocker, author of Infinite Playlist
My son and I love music. Doesn’t matter what genre; doesn’t matter what—loves music in its many forms. He loves discovering new (and old) guitar solos and fills. He loves to pound out the simple beats of The Cars and the more complicated drum fills from David Crowder. He has also discovered the joy of downloading music off the internet and now has the world of music at his clicker-tips!
With his insatiable appetite for music, I knew that eventually, his taste and exposure to non-Christian music would prompt the question. What is the question? It came violently at me from him over the phone last year. He was on a vacation with my parents in San Francisco when they happened to venture into the Virgin Records store located on Stockton Street. This mega store houses thousands and thousands of music choices. When I picked up the phone, I could hear the thumping of Gwen Stefani in the background.
“Dad?” Nathan said.
“Yeah, Nate. What’s up? Where are you?” I said.
“Grandma and I are in the music store and I have to ask you a question,” he said.
I knew he wanted to buy a CD. I was expecting him to ask me my preference between Mercy Me and Reliant K (two very cool Christian music bands) so I said, “Let me guess; you want to know if you can get a CD.”
“Yes!” he said. “Which is better? Van Halen or Def Leppard?”
I’m convinced that electric buzzing sound I heard was my brain short circuiting. Van Halen or Def Leppard! How could I have raised such a rebel!? Where did I go wrong? This must have been his mother’s fault!
In that moment, I knew that Nathan and I had to have a talk about music choice. I realized I needed to come to grips with my response as a parent to the desires and interest my son had for all kinds of music—not just of the Christian genre.
When he came home from his trip, Nathan and I crafted a set of guidelines that we believe honors God and allows him the freedom to choose music based on a framework that is both biblical and respectful. These principles and guidelines have worked wonderfully for us and we continue to live in the freedom that they provide.
So. What are these guidelines?
The overarching principle on which Nathan and I operate is this: Because God has given me (the parent) the leadership mantel of my family, I make the final decision on music choice, but not without input from Nathan.
That last phrase is very, very important! Just because the buck stops with me, does not mean that I shut him down when he really likes a song. That would be like shutting down his growth track, my credibility as a parent and our relationship.
With that principle established, Nathan and I crafted these five guidelines.
When considering every song, we ask these five questions:
Questions 1: What do the lyrics say? For us, if the lyrics denounce God, take His name in vain, have cuss words, or obvious sexual innuendo, it’s out. Sometimes, we even ask, “Could we listen to this song sitting next to grandma?” YIKES!
Question 2: What picture does the song paint in your mind? Communication is more than static words. What we hear paints a picture to send a message that impacts our thoughts. When you hear a song, what picture pops into your mind?
Question 3: What is the mood or feel of the song? Does the song bring you up or bring you down or neither? Variety in mood is OK but if your child is listening to songs that are consistently dark, there may be some other issues in his or her life in which you may need to look. Often, music—and how it plays out in our lives—is a reflection of what is going on inside of us.
Question 4: Will the song cause others to stumble? A song may be fine for you and your child, but if they were to play it in public, would others be offended? If yes, then you have to decide whether to keep the song and be discrete, or chuck it.
Question 5: Who is the artist or the group? Most bands and/or artists are neutral in our minds. But you need to ask, “What is the consistent image that the artist displays to the public?” There are many who are considered ‘clean’; others that are neutral and still others that cause you to turn off Youtube.
By operating under these guidelines, Nathan and I have found great joy in exploring all kinds of music genres and have found five specific benefits:
Benefit one: As a parent, I am also held accountable by the guidelines. At first I didn’t see this as a benefit. However, Nathan pointed out that some of my favorite tunes violated our guidelines. He was right and they have helped me with my integrity as I listen to my playlists.
Benefit two: My child is empowered to make choices. When he realized that I was not going to be breathing down his neck with each of his songs, he gladly committed to live within our guidelines. This helped him ‘grow up’ a little and take on some responsibility.
Benefit three: There is a reduction of risk. I am not so naive to think that Nathan doesn’t have some songs on his playlists that are flirting with the borders of the guidelines. But I would gladly take that chance because these boundaries help filter most of the risk. In fact, part of our agreement is that we are allowed to check each others iPod’s from time to time.
Benefit four: The freedom to listen to the songs on our playlist GUILT-FREE! Rock, Pop, Christian, Rap… it doesn’t matter. As long as the songs meet the guidelines, we can feel free to download and listen to them without feeling like we are dishonoring God, our relationship or our souls.
Benefit five (and most important): Nathan and I have an ongoing conversation and growing relationship because of the guidelines. Most 7-12th graders would love to have conversations and not arguments with their parents. Nathan and I have enjoyed learning about music from each other and having those talks about artists, instruments and songs. I believe that because we worked on these guidelines together, our relationship is stronger.
By the way, I did let Nathan buy the Def Leppard CD that day. By doing so, he knew that I was open to discuss his passion in music and that together, we could create something that has helped us have conversations, not conflict, about music.
Todd Stocker is a pastor, church planter, communicator, and writer. His devotionals and articles have been published in Living Magazine, The Lutheran Witness, and Connect Quarterly. A nationally soughtafter communicator and winner of the Rickman Award for Creative Communication, Stocker has been the keynote speaker at youth camps, men’s and women’s ministry events, and chamber of commerce luncheons. He and his family live in Minnesota.