October 15, 2009

About That Hip-Hop Music…

Posted in Father Time, Parenting tagged , at 10:00 pm by Andrew

I’m not going to say my old FatherTime columns drew throngs of adoring fans, or that I was a rock star among the moms who worshipped the parenting publication. But I will say this — a couple people may have read it. I think.

On occasion, someone will reference an old column or remind me about something I wrote. And now I’ve been asked to post one of my columns from 2006. (The request may or may not have come from my wife, but who am I to say? Or you to know?) So here’s the piece I wrote about modern pop music (which would now be 3 years pre-modern):

You know how every generation of parents complains about the music their children listen to? And yet time ultimately proves these worrisome parents to be naive. Elvis, The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix were not only harmless, but spectacular.

Now it’s our turn. As parents, it’s time to cast a skeptical ear toward today’s music. Like generations before us, will we judge too quickly? Judge too harshly? Or will we be the “cool” parents who bop along in rare appreciation of youthful Top 40? I don’t know what your answer is, but I’ll tell you what it should be — We’ll make history by being the first generation to be justifiably shocked by modern music.

My oldest child is 10, and he thinks I’m cool because I plug him into music. He knows the likes of Green Day, Maroon 5 and Avril Lavigne. He’s happy now, but I’m preparing for the storm.

Reality is this: Much of today’s pop music is hard-core, sexually explicit and wildly demeaning to women — and girls.

Lend an ear to the local Top 40/Hip-Hop station. (And don’t call it “rap,” or you’ll lose all street cred with your kid.) Gone are the days when songs merely alluded to sexual encounters or cleverly described a woman’s body. In my day, J. Geil’s centerfold and Madonna’s virgin astonished adults and intrigued teens. And before that, Elvis’ hips and James Brown’s cold sweat convinced parents that an age of risque had begun.

And the fact is, that music did coincide with periods of increased sexual activity. But I would argue the music advanced in tandem with morals. Vastly to the contrary, today’s music is leading the way. And that’s why you, the parent, must get involved.

By today’s standards, Guns n’ Roses’ 1987 “Sweet Child O’Mine” could pass for Romance poetry, with Axel Rose praising his loved one. But listen to Eminem’s current song “Shake That,” and you’ll hear praise of a much different variety!

As teenagers, we were warned of the risks of objectifying. Yet today’s musicians feast on an entirely new process — specifying. There’s no subtlety or double entendres anymore. Most hip-hop artists talk in raw detail about their unlimited prowess, women’s unbridled sexual desire, and frankly, little else.

Twenty-five years ago, Billy Joel raised eyebrows by chiding us that “Catholic girls start much too late.” He left it at that — quite gentlemanly by today’s standards. But if you ever wondered exactly what Joel was referring to, you’ll hear all the details in Gwen Stefani’s “Crash.”

Are these the worst examples of today’s music? Maybe, but that doesn’t make them rare. In fact, they turn up as often as every other song on the radio. In my youthful days, hard-core lyrics existed, from groups like NWA, for example, but they certainly didn’t make it onto the radio. Yet today’s pop music is riddled with specific and degrading lyrics. What REO Speedwagon only alluded to, Ludacris and Nelly now spell out in crude detail.

Am I overreacting? Definitely not. The Scorpions wanted to “rock you like a hurricane” in the early ’80s, and the meaning is clear now, but as a 14-year-old, frankly, I didn’t catch the reference. Today’s teens can’t possibly miss the sexual content.

Ironically, I’m a big fan of hip-hop. Musically, it’s great to listen to, fabulous to run to. But the lyrics are trouble. Maybe your children listen to pop music and you feel safe because they don’t like hip-hop. Maybe they’re fans of the likes of Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey and Coldplay. But guess what? The same station that plays mostly innocent pop also plays raw hip-hop.

So what’s a parent to do? It’s unlikely you can shield your child from this music, and we probably shouldn’t want to. Fortunately, there is some antidote out there. Listen to Pink’s “Stupid Girls,” for example. But as with most parenting, we simply need to do our best to prepare our children for this ugly reality, then offer continuous support.

In this case, I think that requires listening to today’s music; recognizing the names of the artists I’ve mentioned here; understanding terms and phrases like “X,” “crib,” “grill,” “20s,” “my humps,” and “back up on it.” We need to make clear that we find the lyrics offensive but the music palatable. If our children can compartmentalize such music — see it as a glimpse into a small segment of society, rather than attributing it to their entire peer group — we may help our children feel less pressure to have their lives imitate art.


January 4, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions for Parents

Posted in Father Time, Parenting tagged , , , at 2:34 pm by Andrew

I’m posting a FatherTime column of mine from January 2006 about New Year’s Resolutions. It’s one of my favorites. Plus, I need to be reminded of my own advice…


I’ve said many a time that I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions…that they’re silly and contrived…that I wouldn’t be a part of the goofiness. And then I proceeded to write a Father Time column of New Year’s Parenting “Reminders.” So much for my resolve.


Well, I haven’t changed a bit. New Year’s Resolutions are tricky. If you need to make a big production about “life changes,” the chances for success are slim. So forget about wholesale change, and let’s all pursue modest improvements.


That said, here’s my (now annual) list – not of resolutions, mind you – but Parental Reminders.


This year’s list is more focused than last (see how I’ve already improved!). Think about these two sayings: “Children learn what they live.” And “Do as I say, not as I do.” What’s the difference between the two? Read them again. One is fact, and one is a last-ditch desperate hope. One is insightful, and one is trite. You may want your children to do as you say, not as you do…but we all know they won’t. Rather, our children learn what they live.


So today I’m reminding myself to lead my children by example; to demonstrate more and lecture a bit less. If my three children see me do the following in 2006, I think we’ll all have a great year:


See me respect, serve, praise, and altogether enjoy my wife. I could easily fill a year of columns on the role of the parents’ relationship on children. On their sense of self, awareness of others, and respect for the opposite sex. But most importantly, I want to show my children they’re right – their mother is their greatest advocate and one of the strongest, wisest and most generous people in their lives.


Hear me speak positively about my job. Our children know there’s work in their future. Will they dread the day, or anticipate the challenge? Granted, there are bad jobs and bad days, and it’s important for children to know that. But we must demonstrate that work is as much opportunity as responsibility. In fact, next time my 4th-grader tells me he aced his math test, I’ll tell him about how I aced my last sales meeting. High fives all around!


See me read a book and a newspaper. Reading for pleasure and staying informed are two keys that unlock countless doors. Children need to know the world extends far beyond their house and school. Simply put, reading is fun, and learning and wonder are not limited to a child’s classroom.


Watch me floss my teeth. I must admit, flossing is not one of my strengths, but the next time I floss, I’ll make a point to walk through the living room mid-canine!


See me smile broadly as I return home from a run, ride, walk or swim. A parent who exercises shows children that an active lifestyle is fun. Doing trumps sitting!


Watch me donate money, support a cause, volunteer and be part of the solution.


See me slow down to let in a car ahead of me and hold the door for the stranger behind me. I’m convinced parents are solely responsible for instilling courtesy in their children…and nothing’s nobler than courtesy!


See me choose not to buy something. The same fiscal responsibility that prevented the purchase of a Hot Wheels Mega Track also nixed that 40-inch flat screen. Children don’t hold the patent on doing without.


Hear me praise someone…anyone. Compliment their teacher and principal, boast about my boss, commend the unknown laborers whom repaired the street light. These simple acts can help form the difference between a positive, enthusiastic child and a cynical one.


Hear me tell stories of joy (not burden and hard knocks!) from my childhood. Kids love to imagine their parents as children, and when they picture us laughing and having fun, it reminds them just how wonderful life is!


Society holds ample examples of poor choices and dispirited paths. I’m reminding myself this year to fully embrace my unique ability to model a life worthy of my children’s future.


Happy New Year, parents!

December 17, 2008

Tech Gifts for Parents

Posted in Father Time tagged , , at 10:11 pm by Andrew

What time is it, people? It’s gift guide time! (Sometimes I like to imagine a live studio audience for my columns. Is that strange?)


Yes, it’s that time of year when we see every variation of the Holiday Gift Guide: Lists for…Book Lovers, Dog Lovers, Dog Haters, College Graduates, Six-Year College Non-Graduates, Techies, Technophobes, Audiophiles, New Parents, Wish-They-Weren’t-Parents, and on and on.


It’s only natural that I assemble a Father Time list. But to make it fresh, I’m combining two of the above categories into one list. Can you guess the two? The first one’s easy – parents! So…will it be…Book Loving Parents (list would include “Global Directory to Babysitters”)? Maybe it’s Audiophile Parents (“Norah Jones Sings Barney” and “Rolling Stones and Kermit Turn 50 Together!”)


No, my list is “Tech Gadgets for Parents.” Use this guide to find something nice for your spouse this Christmas. Or surprise a friend who could use a tasteful “parenting gift.” Better yet, return all those gift CDs you’ll never listen to and indulge yourself instead.


Too often, parents cede the technological upper hand to their children. This is a huge mistake! And even if your child is only three, it won’t be long before he’s wired the garbage disposal to roar in synch with his video game explosions. We must take control now, so let me take the ech! out of technology.


Blue Tooth for Parents. You’re familiar with these gadgets people attach to their ears to allow “hands-free” cell phone calling. Well, the parenting version is a bit different. It’s not designed for irritating, public “listen to my pointless conversation” use. For in-home use only, it’s called Blue Fang, because it puts the bite back into parenting.


Blue Fang comes with the usual earpiece that allows you to speak hands free. The difference is this – your children wear similar earpieces, only theirs are listen only. So, instead of calling repeatedly to your children that “Dinner’s ready!” Blue Fang allows you to speak directly into your child’s ear! And since the child’s is listen only, there’s no chance for debate.


Blue Fang also offers the “Record-Repeat” option. With the push of a button, you can record your message (“Take out the garbage” or “Do your homework”) and play it in a continuous loop in your child’s ear until he or she complies. Put technology to work for you!


Household GPS. Boy, if GPS technology isn’t all the rage these days. But it’s not just for backpackers. “GPS Home Edition (HE)” eliminates points of frustration between you and your children. Where’s my hairbrush? Where’s my backpack? Where’s my science book? Where’s my tuba? With GPS HE, you’ll never hear such questions again. Simply attach diode stickers to every item your child owns. (Attach to their foreheads and you can even track your children!) Easy programming accepts up to 56,000 data points. Next time the baseball glove goes missing, simply click “bb-glv” on the GPS unit, and it displays the location!


You can also upgrade to “GPS, Edible Edition” and attach diodes to important food items. Never again will you ask, “Who ate the cheesecake?”


Tech Block! One of the criticisms of technology is that we’re always “plugged in.” Young people, especially, are forever listening to their personal soundtracks via MP3 players and iPods. Short of a battery running out, it’s rare to have a conversation with your child anymore. Business people suffer the same affliction thanks to their Blackberries, enabling continuous e-mail contact with the office.


Fortunately, the new parenting version of the Blackberry solves all – it severs the technology tie by blocking your child’s iPod or your spouse’s Blackberry. It’s aptly named…the Blockberry. Yes, there’s only room for one device in the house when the Blockberry’s on. Flip the switch, and your family has no choice but to unplug…and talk…to you!


iPod for pArents. I don’t mean to libel music players. There’s a lot to be said for retreating into your own world, jamming out to rock ballads, kickin’ it old school…or whatever the kids say these days. And no one needs a musical interlude more than stressed out parents, so now there’s a music player just for us – iParent. The manufacturer identified how much time the average parent has to listen to music – about 10 seconds. So the iParent can hold a million songs…as long as each one is only 10 seconds. Now you can fill those respites between parenting emergencies with music!


As you can see, technology should be embraced, not feared. And with the products on my list, you can give yourself the gift of technological superiority this Holiday.



Self-Righteous Parents

Posted in Father Time, Top 6 tagged , at 10:03 pm by Andrew

Every organization has its secrets, and parenting is no different. Problem is, our secret is unknown even to some parents. But here it is…new parents can be awfully self-righteous!


I define “new parent” as anyone whose oldest child is younger than 5 or 6. That means you could have two, three or more children and still be new. (Parents of teenagers are nodding at this point.) As for the “self-righteous” part, it may seem a cheap shot, but don’t take it too seriously. It’s understandable, really.


New parents are self-righteous because they seemingly have reason to be. They control every aspect of their young child’s life – what they eat, hear, see, smell and touch. As such, these children are typically “well-behaved.” They don’t blurt occasional expletives, punch unsuspecting bystanders or introduce mature themes to immature children.


Instead, it’s always the “other kid” who misbehaves. And self-righteous new parents blame these other children for contaminating their precious young ones. I must admit, I was a self-righteous parent. I think every conscientious parent is (or was). We take parenting seriously, we work hard to create a healthy environment, and we take umbrage when someone contaminates it.


So let’s talk about contamination. Scenario #1: Four-year-olds Trevor and Tommy are on the playground when Tommy proclaims, “I hate these swings. They’re stupid!” Oh the horror! Trevor’s mother responds as if a dirty bomb exploded. She whisks her boy out of there before the words sear his soul. “Hate and dumb! Who speaks like that?” she wonders.


Scenario #2: Five-year-olds Cindy and Erin are playing. Suddenly, Cindy’s crying to her mother: “Erin hit me in the head!” “No I didn’t,” says Erin. Cindy’s mother responds: “Cindy doesn’t lie, Erin. You need to go home.” That’s right…Cindy would never lie. After all, she has a self-righteous parent.


The point is this: Don’t become indignant in the face of bad behavior. Don’t place your child on a pedestal while scoffing at others. That’s strong language, but I think we’d all be surprised how often we do so.


Self-righteous parents are overly offended when their children are exposed to “bad” words or if anyone questions their innocence. But sooner or later, your child will come face to face with the world’s maladies. Don’t blame the neighbor kid who first utters “idiot.” Protect your children by preparing them for the world, not hiding them. A parent who breaks out the hazmat suit in the face of bad language is telling their child he or she can’t handle this world.


I can guarantee your child will be exposed to potty talk, spitting, teasing, bullying, stealing, drugs, and more in the future. What is an appropriate response to such events? Sadness and frustration? Sure. But we can’t act as though our child was just robbed of his innocence. Our children deserve better. We must teach our kids to handle adversity – discuss why certain words are hurtful and certain actions dangerous.


Unfortunately, even as we begin to shed our “new parent” label, the “self-righteous” part can remain. When we hear of a child misbehaving, it’s easy to sigh in relief and feel like we’ve been given a reprieve; as if our child’s stock automatically rises when another’s falls.


This righteousness, this negative judgement of children, is an unfortunate reality of parenting. So let’s release the pressure on parenting a bit by loosening the definition of a “good kid.” Good kids are good-natured and aware of others, which has nothing to do with a perfect record of conduct. The next time a child “wrongs” your child, act like you’ve been there before. Your darling victim will be fine (if we’ve done our jobs correctly), and the offender didn’t just fail the humanity test.


In fact, here’s a new phrase: “Misbehavior Happens.” Don’t be shocked by it. Prepare for it.

Parenting Guilt

Posted in Father Time tagged , at 10:00 pm by Andrew

Nobody loves humor more than I, and I typically fill my columns with humorous takes on parenting (at least, that’s my intention). Yet I would never suggest that comedy is the most common by-product of child rearing. Frustration, confusion, elation and despair certainly top the list above comedy.


So am I disingenuous for delivering a steady stream of jocularity? Hardly. I doubt professional chefs watch Iron Chef for entertainment, and you won’t find rodeo clowns in line for the bumper cars. We all need a break from our day-to-day. For parents, that means introducing some humor into an otherwise stressful day.


Today I’ll take a break from the break, bring the room down and generally depress everyone. Sound good? Then on with the show.


There’s one aspect of parenting that has nearly defeated me – parenting guilt. It can be surprisingly powerful, even crippling in its most severe form. Best-case scenario, it’s educational.


But I should define my idea of “parenting guilt:” regret and sadness over how you treated your child. Simple as that. My parenting guilt is highly episodic – focused on a specific interaction or encounter. [In fact, while I’m obviously not a trained professional, I would have to believe that if you suffer from generalized parenting guilt – an overriding funk unrelated to a single action – you may well want to speak to your doctor.]


My guilt can be foolish (regretting an action that was perfectly appropriate) or deserved (regret for truly dropping the parenting ball). Examples are probably in order:


It’s bedtime, and my five-year-old is struggling. He just won’t stop playing, running, laughing. He’s making no progress toward pajamas or the toothbrush, let alone a calm bedtime demeanor. So I toggle through the usual discipline menu – “Playtime is over, and now it’s time for bed. Get ready now, or they’ll be no time for books.” Play, play, play. “You have four minutes to brush your teeth.” Run, run, run. “One minute…” Giggle, giggle, giggle.


Then the hammer falls: “OK, no time for books tonight. Brush your teeth and go to bed.” Cry, cry, cry; assorted “bad daddy” references; an “it’s no fair” tangent, and several minutes of indiscriminate wailing. Sound familiar?


I don’t mean to make light of it, because it can be quite sad. He loves books, and I love having that time with him. I hate the situation, and 30 minutes later, when he’s asleep and looking peaceful as a picture book, I begin to question my actions. “Why’d I act so abruptly? Why so harsh?” But clearly this parenting guilt is misplaced – effective discipline should never be regretted, and I quickly wise up and move on.


That’s a critical lesson all parents learn: proper discipline is a bedrock of parenting. If you fall into a guilt-trap over it, your ability to parent is eroded.


But I experience plenty of authentic guilt, as well. An example: It’s time for my eight-year-old to write a thank-you note, so I interrupt his carousing and give him the old five-minute warning. As the clock counts down, there’s no winnowing of energy…he’s playing at full throttle. Eventually, time runs out, and I manage to direct him to the table, place pencil in hand and card in front. We review the recipient, what he’s thankful for, etc. But his brain remains in play mode, and he maintains playful banter with his siblings. I’m not surprised or agitated; I just provide another reminder.


But then I drift to another task, and next thing I know, he’s downstairs racing cars. Now I’m agitated, and he receives a rather terse demand to march upstairs. So now he’s seated, but there’s no writing. I have officially lost patience, and the situation erodes into foolish arguing. How did we get here?


Again, after things have calmed, and he’s asleep, I’m dwelling on my behavior. “How could I get frustrated like that? He was just being a kid.” And so on. In retrospect, I minimize all the extenuating factors and exaggerate my own actions. This is not healthy guilt.


Sure, I shouldn’t lose my cool, but it’s guaranteed to happen, so I shouldn’t flog myself over a single incident. Rather, I should identify the problem (allowing the situation to get away from me), identify a solution (maintaining calm) and do better next time.


So there is a place for parenting guilt. It’s healthy to regret your failures. It’s healthy to learn from these failures. But it’s certainly unhealthy to dwell or stall in your failures.

It was several years before I learned to manage my parenting guilt – to embrace the guilt but ultimately release it.

Next page