Why Do My Kids Like Bad Music?

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A friend of mine named Micah Van Dijk, who is an up and coming wise voice about the effects of popular culture on teen faith formation and is on staff at Redeemer College in Ancaster ON, Canada, recently wrote this blog. I asked him if I could share it here on the Network, and he said yes. Enjoy.

“The music that young people listen to today is explicit, repetitive, and just sounds bad.”

Many parents and leaders struggle to understand the music that youth are attracted to. We wish they’d see the lack of quality in modern music and discover better music, whether it be Christian versions of modern music, or some of the classic rock/pop songs of past decades. When we express our desire for our youth to do a better job of discerning music, we are met with hostility and frustration that we don’t understand them and the conversation usually ends.

Discernment is the skill to understand the many tiny details of a song (including its impact on us), so that we can wisely choose a healthy response to it. We have the opportunity to teach good discernment by practicing our own skills alongside the youth. If they see us carefully considering each song, it’s impact, and then choosing a measured response, they will be more interested in engaging in the process themselves.

Exploring an unknown artist, song, genre, or topic can be intimidating, so here are four questions that can be asked of any song, to help get the conversation started.

  1. What is the mood of the song? Observe whether your mood changed as the song played.     
  2. What stood out to you in the song? Explore what aspects (sounds, words, themes) stick in your memory even after the song has stopped playing.  
  3. Why do you think the artist wrote this song? Wonder aloud what reasons the artist might have had to write this song and imagine if there is a particular reaction the artist hoped you have (as a listener). 
  4. How does the Bible talk about the theme of the song? Connect the theme of the song to verses or stories of the Bible that come to mind, questioning whether the song reinforces these aspects of the Biblical story, or contradicts it.

So the next time a new song comes on the radio, begin by asking yourself and your youth these four curious questions. You’ll feel less intimidated by new music and your youth will be more open to engaging in the second part of discernment, which is choosing a healthy response to the song.  

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I am told that Bono was at an awards ceremony and heard a Christian Artist thank God for "giving" him a particular song.

Bono's response was, "I'm sorry to hear that God has no sense of rhythm or melody."

I suspect that 99% of the songs our kids listen to today won't be heard 30 years from now.

So?  Hold our noses and ears and listen to some good stuff, hoping they outgrow the bad?

Hello Kent

You raise some good points!  

I agree that 99% of current pop songs will not be heard 30 years from now.   

I had a worship music professor who observed a similar trend in worship music where close to 20,000 hymns/worship songs are published yearly and only 1-2 have a lasting quality that see them used ten, fifty, or hundreds of years after they were written.   

That leaves us with the 1% of popular music from 2018 that can have an immediate and lasting impact on culture. 

I think parents and leaders of children and youth can play an active role in the discernment of music through exploration and discussion.  We can have conversations about what we think will be the "1%" songs and why.  We can also use the "99%" songs to have fruitful conversations that explore meaningful topics, even if we suspect the song will not last.  

When I speak at schools or youth groups, students will sometimes pick a song for us to discuss that I hope is part of the 99% and won’t be remembered.  Either because of what I perceive a lack of musical quality or because I find the theme of the song distorts the Biblical story and is unhelpful for those trying to follow Jesus.   Yet, I still find our conversations about these (99%) songs valuable because the students can see more clearly the disconnect between their faith and the song.   And I find that I appreciate the nuances and themes of current music that I never would have seen without the insight of the students.     

A parent asked me to create a list of "1%" songs that they could introduce to their teenagers to spark conversation so I made a list at www.micahvandijk.com/top-ten-songs    Looking at the list, I’m aware that I wouldn't have known about most of these songs, without the help and suggestions by youth.    

Unfortunately, the problem you raise is not a new one to this generation.   But I do think there is opportunity to have meaningful discussions that shape faith and identity with both the 1% and the 99% of current music that youth are listening to.   

Micah van Dijk
 

You are certainly right about it not being a new problem.  Socrates had the same lament.