Does the Music Industry Hate My 5-Year-Old?

britney scream and shout

Rather than enrage parents, engage children on digital platforms

When my 5-year-old son graduated from preschool a few months ago, each of the parents received a laminated sheet recounting the highlights of their child’s tenure there. That’s how I learned of the time my kid entertained the class with an impromptu performance of the will.i.am/Britney Spears duet “Scream and Shout.”

I turned red picturing my son singing the closing line of the chorus to a room full of preschoolers, “You are now rockin’ with will.i.am and Britney, bitch!”

Before calling Child Protective Services, understand that I do my best to shield my son from offensive lyrics while still cultivating his love for pop songs. The problem is that the music industry makes it difficult for parents like me to serve up his favorite hits.

This is not going to be one of those diatribes against the immorality of the music industry. Tipper Gore can have that battle to herself. But unless it wants to continue ignoring its next wave of consumers, the industry needs to embrace the flexibility digital media was tailor-made to offer.

The radio may be filled with expletive-free music. But predetermined set lists do not fly with a generation growing up with such an on-demand orientation to content that they don’t even understand what channels or commercials are. Ninety percent of what my son watches are PBS shows his parents stockpile for him on a DVR, and the other 10% comes off an app he calls “the red thing” (Netflix).

YouTube offers a vast collection of songs available either from record labels that bother to upload radio edits or fans who take it upon themselves to upload sanitized versions.

But that collection shrinks considerably when my son isn’t in front of my desktop (most of his music gets played via iPhone or iPad). That’s because there is an utter lack of consistency when it comes to song rights — depending on which device is used.

Try to explain to a 5-year-old why he can watch “Thrift Shop” on a desktop but not anywhere else. This isn’t so “f**king awesome,” Macklemore.

Maybe the reason the music industry can’t find the time to put up an authorized radio edit of a popular song is because it would prefer I pay for the privilege on iTunes. But even there some songs don’t have a non-explicit option. Even the unofficial song of the summer, Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines,” doesn’t come clean unless I buy the entire album that includes the song.

I would rather my son just have his mouth washed out with soap in kindergarten than pay for music I don’t want.

He loves a good musicvideo as well, but even there my hands are tied. With scantily clad models, “Blurred” isn’t going to play on my TV — but “Scream and Shout” is actually a pretty cool video. But because that video’s rights don’t extend from YouTube to my Internet-connected Samsung TV, I occasionally play it for him but yell out “Beep!” at precisely the moments he would otherwise hear “bitch.”

But guess what kind of videos the music industry seems very focused on producing these days? “Uncut” versions featuring naked women for “Blurred” and Justin Timberlake’s latest single, “Tunnel Vision.” This apparently is what the Internet is good for instead of kid-friendly tunes.

Maybe I’m a bad parent for letting my son hear anything but nursery rhymes. But when you put aside the moral considerations and focus strictly on the business opportunity, there should be just as much incentive in keeping it clean as there is going dirty. Hook my child on your products, music moguls, but meet me halfway.

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    1. Paul says:

      That’s why we keep our record collections.

    2. Tiara says:

      There is always Radio Disney….

    3. Lee Miller says:

      This is why there is a nice thing called parental advisory on these forms of content. If you have a 5 yr old, do your job as a parent and monitor what they listen to instead of depending on the industry to do so.

    4. G. Jardoness says:

      Mr. Wallenstein, I didn’t know whether I was reading a fruitless plea to the music industry or just the ‘thinking out-loud’ of an argument in an up-coming custody battle.

      But, my best suggestion is, ‘control what you can’. You cannot control, (for the most part), what your child can and will see or hear or be exposed to. But you can control, (to a greater extent), what your child does as a result and in reaction to it, and place it in its proper context…

      If Brittany Spears wants to jump off a bridge, (fill in the blank), that doesn’t mean you have to do so as well… And the extent to which you can reinforce that clear delineation with anecdotes and further explanations on why ‘their’ lives are not necessarily the examples you want to follow, all the better…

      In the meantime, until he even understands what he’s repeating and acting-out on, it’s enough, to lay down the law, with a calm and firm and consistent, “No”, “Those words are bad — or mean — or I just don’t want to hear them come out of your mouth”, and teach him the distinctions and make him understand — That’s your job, Dad… and your responsibility.

    5. It’s easy to say, “Don’t let your 5 year old listen” as one commenter mentioned. But the fact is, youngsters are engaged by pop music. It’s impossible to shield them from all of it. I really admire the gentleman who says he edits the music after he downloads it. He is obviously a devoted and conscientious father, but that’s a lot of work. Not every father has the technical skill or the time to do that with all of today’s music. At Youtenna, we’re happy to do that for you. We are a small fledgling start up, and naturally, we want all the listeners we can get. We take pride in knowing that you’ll feel safe listening to our station in any setting, without offending people. Children and grownups love it. And we make it interactive. Children can talk on the station and devote songs to their friends and family. Grownups can have fun as guest DJs too, performing for our worldwide audience. Youtenna is truly an interactive radio station the whole family can enjoy.

    6. ComeOn says:

      Good news is that Barbra Streisand never cusses in any of her music.

    7. a father who undrrstands says:

      I grew up with music in ny home, from the sexualized funk of the 70’s music to the malecentric themes of latin music. I appreciate the artform and I can do without the bad language, but unfortunstely it is the normal language of many in this country. So what I did for my kids was personally edit the song myself. After downloading the song like “Thriftstore” I loaded it into my editing program and removed the bad words, the song still sounds the same and my son can sing along. It is great to take out offensive words and let him listen to music that was once off limits. I do agree with some of the comnents about parents taking cobtrol. With a little research and elbow grease an active parent can find the work around. Kidz bop does good remakes of current pop tunes if you can swallow kids singing songs that have adult themes. Good luck helping you son decelop his musical tastes

    8. Ed Brennan says:

      Please have a listen to Youtenna dot com . We play all of today’s hits. We very carefully and artfully create family listenability with all of our selections. Thrift Shop is there, Blurred Lines. Scream and Shout,,. all in our rotations. But the entire playlist has been made acceptable for playing in the office, or for your grandma, or at the family picnic. We’re very glad to be of service. Oh, and BTW. Your kids can use any smartphone to be the star DJ. Details are on the website. Thanks!

    9. David says:

      The music industry makes pop music for 13 – 25 yr olds. not 5 yr olds, and not dads. Your kid should be listening to Father Abraham, or muppet movie soundtracks, or kids show music leave the pop to the teens.

      • GrowUpAlready says:

        Exactly. This is a prime example of these modern-day mental-patient parents who throw temper tantrums because they might have to suffer a few inconveniences for the sake of their children. The author does not want to stop listening to his favorite station or monitor electronics use in the presence of his child, so it’s up to the music industry to change their business models and demographics to suit him (five year olds this year; of course next year, they’ll have to change their demographics to six year olds). Put on sesame street CDs in the car, control your toddler’s digital content viewing habits, and listen to pop music on your headphones or when the kiddies are asleep.

    10. Michael Anthony says:

      Huge music fan my entire life. Give kids some credit. The words have probably already been heard or soon will be. I heard as a kid and never began swearing like a sailor. The more “shock” value u give it, the more it confuses a kid. No matter what we are exposed to, the overwhelming majority of us grow up to be fine.

    11. blip says:

      Not that you didn’t lose me at the phrase “graduated from preschool” (you did), but the problem is not the music industry and its evil “moguls.” The problem is you. You are the filter between your son and unwanted content. Even proceeding on the assumption that a five-year-old has to develop a love for digitized, auto-tuned, generic, sexist, pop garbage (trust me: he doesn’t), it’s Dad (and/or, presumably, Mom) who is handing him hundreds of dollars’-worth of electronic toys that no five-year-old really, truly needs and turning him loose on the evil Interwebs. Instead of Dad (and/or Mom) downloading or buying hard copies of child-appropriate music, you, Dad, are doing what so many parents do these days: throwing your hands in the air and blaming someone else. A five-year-old whose “development” depends on cultivating a “taste” for Robin Thicke…? Try again, Dad. And, in the meantime, take away Junior’s iPad. Trust me: he’ll survive.

    12. samaelsmile says:

      You’re not a bad parent for wanting to allow your son to hear anything but nursery rhymes. However, if you are allowing your five-year old to go on YouTube or listening to Spotify without supervising him and controlling what he listens to, then yes…I’m sorry but you are.

    13. Rock Mom says:

      I love this article and couldn’t agree more! I’m a huge music fan and want to pass that on to my daughter, but driving down the street hearing my 5 year old singing along to Rihanna’s “S & M” made me feel like a horrible parent – and that’s the supposedly sanitized version of today’s pop music. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all squeamish, my ipod is full of Explicit Lyrics, but I’m forced to make my daughter listen to Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift because they are the only current artists with clean lyrics anymore! Fortunately, I’ve made a Bob Marley fan out of her . . .

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