Listen. And Learn

Parents of adolescents, how many of you enjoy your children’s favorite music – if you can even understand it?  I realize there are families in which parents and children enjoy the same musical tastes.  However, for many, the choice of music preference can become not only a difference between generations, but even a focal point of major misunderstanding and conflict.  I would urge you, as parents, to give serious consideration to what I am sharing today.  With the right approach, you can take the huge barrier of your teen’s musical identity and turn it into an open doorway into the deep struggles, hopes, fears, beliefs, and desires lying in the heart and mind of your son or daughter.

Music has always been important to people.  It has the power to touch and stir our spirits in a unique and powerful way, giving voice to our inner thoughts and shaping our identities in the process.  In modern America, each generation had their music that defined them and expressed their inner selves outwardly for all to hear – much of it commonly shared by the majority of one’s generational peers.  However, in postmodern adolescent America, music has become a much more personal expression – with scores of styles, genres, and subgenres available for download.  And let’s face it, much of today’s music (but certainly not all!) is distasteful, offensive, or outright disturbing to the parent who can pick out enough words to hear the themes.  So, what do you do when confronted with shocking album covers, myspace pages, cds, and downloads?

Listen.  And learn.  Children need parents and adults who will listen to their hearts and calmly respond in love.  Notice I said “CALMLY.”  This is the key to the whole message today.  When we quickly react to our teens’ music out of fear or disgust, we not only dismiss the music, we dismiss our children.  In my counseling practice, I have been amazed at what young people will share with me when I invite them to share some of their favorite music with me, and assure them it is OK to play anything that is meaningful to them.  I have heard both sounds and words that pained me deeply, but because I want to understand and guide these troubled youths, I listen.  And learn.  And amazing things begin to happen.

They share things with me they have never told anyone else.  They share dreams they are embarrassed to express to family or friends.  They tell me of horrific abuse.  They reveal painful patterns of self-destruction in the form of drug abuse and self-injury.  They express how they see themselves differently than others see them.  They help me understand the group in which they identify themselves.  So, why do they share all this with me?  It certainly isn’t because they’ve been looking forward to revealing their most personal vulnerabilities with a therapist.  Therapy is not typically high on the wish list of today’s teenager.  They share with me because they need so much for someone to hear their stories, and they entrust their stories to me because I have expressed a calm determination to hear through their music into their hearts.  And you can do it, too!

You must determine for yourself that you will not listen TO your teen’s/preteen’s music, but listen THROUGH their music into their hearts.  Staying calm as you listen to their music does not mean you endorse the music, or its themes.  It means you love your kid.  It means you are into him enough to endure the grating sounds of his music, because he matters to you.  It means you care enough about your daughter to hear her interpretation of her music, rather than immediately reacting to the awful stuff you heard in the song.  When you hear the venemous language of anger in their songs, you begin to tenderly ask what upsets them in life – and be ready to hear their answers without reacting defensively.  When they play songs full of strong sexual themes, you calmly explore their sexual beliefs, history, and expectations.  When you hear words of despair and pain, you lovingly offer to listen and accept them in the midst of their brokenness. 

When you are prayerfully prepared to calmly respond to these, and other difficult scenarios through your teens’ music, it is time for you to invite them to share their music with you.  They may be skeptical at first, especially if you have been reactive, defensive, and condemning of their music in the past.  Help them see that you are ready to listen to them, and that you understand hearing their music is an important part of hearing their hearts.  You will be amazed at the level of influence you can regain in your child’s life when you can bravely and calmly make this a part of your relationship.  And who know what great transformations may occur in your children, once you have firmly grasped the power of your influence!

And while you’re at it, pray for me – my son is only three.  There’s no telling what may be the music of his adolescence!  (And I’m sure listening to my son’s will take much more courage and calm than listening to the music of my clients.)

For more guidance in your quest to hear, understand, and guide your children in love, check out the many resources accessible through my website ( may be particularly helpful) – or contact me at 225-387-2287 or at

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