Mind Over Music

I love music! I almost always listen to music or have a song in my mind. Music has a way entering us. It can help us to relax or to get excited about what’s next. It can penetrate our minds, for better or for worse. Music is powerful. It can effectively bring focus to, or distract us from, the task at hand.

I have a friend who hears someone speak a phrase and then sings a portion of a song that correlates with that phrase. Think about that: She has a database of songs in her mind. I would argue that all of us have a similar song database.

During the Traditional Service recently, we sang a song that was familiar to me, but it had different lyrics. I knew the song as “To God Be the Glory,” yet the song we sang (with the tune I knew) was “Sing Praise to the Father.” So I had to read the lyrics as I sang, rather than sing it from memory. This created an unusual experience for me, since I had to think about what I was singing.

Many of us mindlessly sing songs we hear. We may even sing along, never understanding what the lyrics mean. Have you ever stopped to listen to the words that you’re singing? When my children sing a song, I sometimes ask what the song is about. Often they don’t know or can’t explain the song’s meaning to me.

This is an area that concerns me, particularly since I have preteen children in the house, now. They are no longer impressed with “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” or “My God is so Big.” They now like certain genres of music and are aware of what music their friends listen to. It’s more difficult for me to protect my children from age-inappropriate songs these days.

Have you ever looked up the lyrics to songs you hear? I’ve done this several times, and did some research today. I looked at the lyrics to the top ten songs listed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Of the top ten songs I researched, three were fairly tame. However, the other seven included crude words (racial slurs, curse words, demeaning terms for females), references to alcohol and drugs, and references to sex and sexual behavior.

So, what do we do with this information? Should we ban the radio in the car? Should we create our children’s playlists for them? Most children have access to mobile technology, and they listen to music privately. How do we manage their song choices? Should we give our children protective headphones to prevent them from hearing music when they are in a public setting?

The answer to theses question is no. However, parents must take a proactive role in their children’s exposure to music and the lyrics that accompany that music. Let me give some tips to help you navigate this process:

  • Listen to the lyrics of songs you hear on the radio, on television, or in the store. Deliberately listen for the story that the song tells. Practice this.
  • Check out your child’s playlist. This doesn’t have to be a “gotcha” moment. Ask your child to show you her playlist. Ask about her favorite song. Open up the conversation without judgement.
  • Choose a few of those songs and research the lyrics. Simply choose your preferred search engine and type in the title of the song with the word “lyrics.” Read through the lyrics and see what you think.
  • Have your child join you in reading the lyrics to her favorite songs. It’s likely that she doesn’t know what the lyrics mean. This could be a teachable moment. Explain the lyrics in an age-appropriate way. Then explain why the song may not be the best choice for your child (or for an adult, for that matter).
  • Introduce safe and appropriate songs for your children.
    • *No Lyrics: Ban music with lyrics. This is one option, but it doesn’t seem very realistic or appealing to the average child.
    • Kidz Bop: This is generally a safer option for children, yet it’s not my favorite option. The content of the song will remain the same, and some lyrics are changed to be more age-appropriate.
    • Teachable Moments: Rather than avoiding music (after you have chosen what’s most appropriate for your children), use teachable moments to correct what some songs are trying to teach. If there’s an inappropriate (or not child-friendly) word used, use a word substitute. Here’s an example of what our family does:

There’s a Rascal Flatts song entitled DJ Tonight that refers to                    whiskey and liquor. My husband and I do not drink alcohol, so                we change the words. We substitute these references for                          sweet tea!

 Mmm, the way you hold that glass with your fingertips

             I wish I was the whiskey [sweet tea] upon your lip

This is my favorite option.  Let me recommend that your family explore Christian music. It has come a long way from the few solo artists and groups that were around several decades ago. You can find almost any genre you prefer with Christian lyrics. To explore some songs, choose your search engine, type in Christian music, and you can listen to (and watch videos) from the top Christian songs.

While we can’t monitor all that our children see and hear, we can be active participants. Begin the conversation, talk about music, and find music that you can enjoy together. Let’s do all that we can to ensure that our children fill their minds with good things and that they (and we) don’t do anything mindlessly.

So don’t live under the control of sin. If you do, you will think about what sin wants. Live under the control of the Holy Spirit. If you do, you will think about what the Spirit wants. The thoughts of a person ruled by sin bring death. But the mind ruled by the Spirit brings life and peace, Romans 8: 5-6 (NIrV).

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