In Defense of Uncool Kids’ Music

My Twitter feed has been blowing up with news of the release of the new Rain for Roots children’s CD.  It features the writing of Sally Lloyd-Jones and the music of Sandra McCracken (among others), so obviously I bought it, and obviously it is great.

But some of the publicity for this album has centered around a theme that I am more reluctant to embrace: the idea that “coolness” is an essential element when it comes to music for children, or to put it another way, that the best kids music is appealing to the parents, too.

Now, I’ll go with this to a certain extent.  We do have some music for Abby that I like enough to listen to even when she’s out of the room, and of course these are the CDs that I try to push on her most often.  Part of this is my own selfishness, which prefers something like Rain for Roots to Barney’s Best Hits.  Part of it is a noble conviction that I am helping to elevate her preferences and train her ear to appreciate finer, more sophisticated musical stylings.  It’s the same reasoning that motivates me to pass over the library books that I think are stupid in favor of ones of higher quality.  In my mind, this is the same as making your child eat vegetables instead of gummi bears for dinner.

The turn-of-the-century educator Charlotte Mason warned parents against feeding their children “twaddle,” which was her term for dumbed-down children’s material.  “They’re children, they’re not stupid,” she argued (my paraphrase), “and if you feed their minds with inane images and ideas, they’ll enjoy them and be satisfied.  But why would you do that, if you can expose them to things that are truly good and beautiful, and train them to love those instead?”

But while I appreciate the impulse to liberate children from their baser instincts, I draw the line at what I sense is a snobby parental desire to make sure their kids are “cool” from a young age.  I get this from the parent who boasts when her six-year-old creates a Tom Petty Pandora station.  Or the one who shrugs with a smile and says, “My daughter has listened to Veggie Tales at her friends’ houses, but when she gets home she tells me she really prefers my old Indigo Girls albums.”  And let’s be honest: as cute as it is when your three-year-old sings along with the latest top-40 hits you listen to on the radio, isn’t it also just a little creepy?

Here’s the bottom line: excellent is always better than mediocre.  But I don’t even hold myself to that kind of standard all of the time.  Sometimes I turn off the edifying hymns and dance around to the Glee soundtrack; I re-read Twilight instead of trying that John Piper or Jane Austen book on the shelf.

So Abby listens to plenty of music that’s good for her, and she enjoys plenty of “cool” music (or at least as close to it as we get in our house).  But sometimes a two-year-old just wants to give her mind a break with a little “B-I-N-G-O” or “Hey, Mr. Knickerbocker,” and I’m okay with that.  Even when they’re sung by a six-foot purple dinosaur and not an indie artist with thick-framed glasses.

(I just want to laugh when my friends say “We don’t do Barney; I can’t stand him,” as if ANY mom listens to him for her own enjoyment!)


10 responses to “In Defense of Uncool Kids’ Music

  1. I love this…children can enjoy a wide range of things, just like the adults. And I am not a fan of parents encouraging their children to “put away childish things” when they are still children! We memorized Scripture with super uncool Psalty and G.T. and the Halo Express and we all still remember it. Ten years later when Leslie came along, Barney had burst onto the scene. Leslie is as a great example of a young adult with plenty of cool vibes; ask her how many Barney episodes she watched as a child! I still have her Barney stuffed toy that she loved so much…happy memories!

  2. Some moms can tolerate Barney and some cannot, just like some moms refuse to use their microwave, and others don’t know how to get through an hour without it. My children will have to watch Barney somewhere else. They do, however, watch really uncool shows like Sillyville (which I do not know to this day why I bought it) and Gospel Bill. If Barney had an eternal message, I might cave, but at this point, even though the songs are catchy, I cannot let myself turn it on.

    • What do you mean no eternal message? Haven’t you listened closely to “We like colors, we like them a lot”?

      I don’t think Barney is the only option for “uncool” listening…as long as your kids get their silly somewhere, I won’t think they’re being deprived! 🙂

  3. scrappingbear

    We certainly listened to our fair share of Clifford’s favorites, Veggie Tales, Between the Lions Soundtrack, etc, but it didn’t break my heart when MC’s musical tastes became a bit more sophisticated within the past couple of years. We still listen to Seeds Family Worship and lots of VBS soundtracks, but I like that he enjoys The Beatles and Sting. I’m glad he is appreciating music with great lyrics and melodies. He loves Michael Buble and the Beethoven just as much as Toby Mac and DC Talk. I’m just thankful that we can share common ground. Before too long I fear that he will discover that most of what we listen to is more than 20 years old and that we are shamefully unhip compared to the current trend music of his generation- whatever that may be. For the time, I’m thankful he prefers Tom Petty to Justin Beiber or Taylor Swift.

    • Hmm, you raise an interesting point. It’s true that it’s a bit of a no-mans-land once kids outgrow “toddler” music, and I don’t know where you go from there…maybe older music is a good way to shield kids a bit longer from a hyper-sexualized, commercial “tween” culture. At least the music was good and the innuendos were subtle, right?

      I guess it’s all in the attitude…The mom with the Tom Petty Pandora station was definitely being snobby (taken in the context of a longer conversation), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that every pro-Petty household has the same underlying attitude (and judgment of others). Good food for thought! I’ll be curious to see how this plays out in our house.

  4. Kevin and I had a conversation about some of the innuendo in classic rock music and we cringe at the idea that MC will probably understand those references much earlier than we did!

    I think that the important thing about this topic is to try to find common ground with your kids- no matter what their age. I have some good friends with a son in college and another in high school. One of their parenting tips is to find music that everyone in the family loves and to allow the kids some freedom to “play DJ” in the car with the ipod or radio stations- as long as the lyrics are not offensive. They feel that their sons are much more likely to invite friends over, ask their parents to take them to a concert, etc., because their parents allow them to listen to the music that the kids like. I think this is an extremely important connection to have with our kids and paves the way for more open relationships as they enter those tween and teen years. So if your kid is into Barney, suck it up and listen to Barney! If he wants Toby Mac’s “Tonight” album on repeat most of the time (MC’s personal favorite) then find your inner hip-hop star and belt our the lyrics as you drive!:)

  5. scrappingbear

    I forgot to sign in on the previous reply and it says I’m anonymous:(

    • Nothing anonymous about that comment, friend! 🙂 Appreciate your thoughts, and now have some specific ideas for prayer requests for the next few years.

  6. I can totally see Abby teaching Tres the words to Free Falling….. just sayin’! 🙂
    (by the way, my children watched Kidsongs today, and I almost had a nervous breakdown because of the music!! It was fitting to your post!)

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