Once they pass the age of interest in Barney and Sesame Street, kids are left with limited musical choices. By default, they enter the world of “teen pop”, where the song lyrics revolve around romantic relationships and a world that young children know very little about. With the increasing acceptance and popularity of rudeness and rebellion in popular music, young kids are walking around mouthing lyrics like “do you really wanna touch it?” and “if you wanna be my lover…” (hopefully, without the first clue as to the meaning of their words). They often end up latching on to the more “santized” of the teen pop stars…but, because those artists have careers to build, they can’t afford to be seen as appealing to a very young audience for more than about one album. Remember Britney Spears? How many parents are comfortable letting their kids listen to her now? Can other “good, clean” artists like Hannah Montana be far behind? If she is, she would be the rare exception to the rule…
Freedom, independence, romance and sexuality are all normal, natural parts of the maturation process…as well as defining topics in the lives of adults…when balanced with responsibility and commitment. But for developing young minds, they are topics best introduced slowly, as curiosity arises naturally, and in doses they can take time to digest over a period of years. However. our lay-it-all-out-there, reality-show culture seems to have thrown off virtually all restraints. It can be argued whether or not that’s a good thing for adults, but its our children who are the real losers. Where do we think all this talk of “going out” at age 6-7 comes from?
To be clear, this is not about the concept that children might accidentally see an uncovered human body part or hear an expletive that should have been deleted. Rather, the real issue is that we have allowed the societal compact to protect our young to erode terribly in recent years. We no longer honor childhood in the way we used to. We used to believe that children needed to be protected until they were “of age” for exposure to a given adult topic or activity. However, in order to honor something, it needs both to be protected and invested in. This means time, energy, money and creativity. Instead, we’ve ripped away the protections that once allowed kids to learn from role models without a profit motive or a personal agenda.
When I was the host of a children’s radio program back in the Eighties, I became aware of a law that forbade the host of a children’s program from endorsing and promoting products to children. Think about that for a second. Talk about a foreign concept! Today, the hosts and main characters of many childrens shows ARE THE PRODUCTS THEMSELVES (whether human beings or anthropomorphic characters). In effect, our entertainment (and much of our educational and even moral instruction) for children comes in the form of 30-minutes commercials for products. And once the naked profit motive is revealed…it’s no wonder our entertainment has lost its “soul”. When you can sell “fluff”…why take the time to create memorable, meaningful art? There’s nothing wrong with making a profit, of course. But there is something wrong with “dumbing down” entertainment in order to produce it in mass quantities.
With very few exceptions, kids music today operates under the radar of the public consciousness. There is little awareness of it at the major record labels. There is virtually no broadcast presence. In fact, it is viewed with disdain by many, because…except for the few cases where there are not strong marketing tie-ins (read: Disney)…it’s not a big money-maker. It rests largely on the backs of independent artists and bands who have a burden for children, and who use their gifts and resources to educate and inspire them with whatever opportunities they can find.
One thing you can do to help support the creation of quality music for kids is to support independent artists. You’ll find them on sites like this one. Take some time to listen to some of the great, free music available for download. If you hear an artist who catches your kid’s fancy…support them. Buy an album. Go see them in concert. Consider sponsoring them in concert in your area.
In honoring quality where we find it, we may not have much impact on the empty corporate approach to children’s entertainment…but we can ensure that the good stuff continues to exist and provide a viable alternative.