On the Radio

   Just as some people keep the television on during the day as background noise, I like to have the radio on in my house. This has been a habit since before my sons were born. I have a few stations I like to listen to for their not-too-loud play lists, while my husband prefers the harder rock stations.                                          

   Lately I've found that I can't have the rock stations on when the kids are around because the disc jockeys take language liberties that make my husband and I look at each other in disbelief and ask, "Did he just say the 'A' word? Can they do that on the radio?"

   Also disturbing are that the pop songs themselves that seem, more than ever before, to be laced with questionable language and content. One very popular song states several times in each chorus: "I see why the hell it means so much to me". Another singer taints her song with a line about "somebody who gave a damn".  Still another "was stupid … tryin' to figure out where the hell I went wrong."  And, ironically, an 'American Idol' sings a very popular and widely played song about suspecting her boyfriend of cheating on her with "some bleached-blonde bimbo" — so she takes a baseball bat to his car. Hello? When did swear-laced songs about violence and anger-induced crimes become the "pop standard"?

   The songs and the DJs are bad enough, but add to that the commercials, and it is harder than ever for me to stay on one station all day. The classical music station, which used to be so lovely and innocuous with its lyric-less play lists, has begun broadcasting ads for Viagra, and alcohol and substance rehabilitation programs. The rock stations are geared toward a college-age crowd, so aside from the language issue, their commercials are mostly for various alcoholic products.  Even my local "family" station has begun playing numerous ads for lottery games that emphasize the 'fun' of gambling with catchy tunes, and calling it 'gaming' (my 7-year-old recently started singing along to these commercials).

   Perhaps I am in the minority, but my fear is that if I don't change the station, I am tacitly condoning a general shift toward the use of gratuitous language, and am exposing my children to words and behaviors that my husband and I would never promote in front of them. I don't let my kids watch TV stations that show these types of ads or broadcast programs with mature language. Now I have to monitor my daytime radio too?

   According to the American Academy of Pediatrics:

—Any media message, whether it's a magazine article or a TV talk show, is created by a team of people who write it, decide what pictures to use, and what to leave out. All of these give the message a purpose.

—Each media form uses its own language. Newspapers make headlines large to attract readers to certain stories. Media with sound may use music to make people feel a range of emotions.

—No two people experience the same media message in exactly the same way. How a person interprets a message depends on factors unique to that person's life. These can include age, values, memories, and education.

   The AAP also states that when children learn about these techniques, they are able to understand how a message is delivered — instead of only being affected by it. I realize that each of these radio stations has a particular demographic they are trying to reach, and they receive funds from their ads; I don't begrudge them that.  But 4-year-old Benjamin will point out when he hears an ad for a place he recognizes (a local aquarium), and Jacob often stops drawing or reading to ask me what a song means as it's playing. So I know they're listening, even when they're involved in other activities. 

   As adults, we recognize these songs and ads for what they are, but our children don't — unless we discuss the topic with them, and keep the dialogue open. I brought up the radio issue with my husband to see if I was being overly sensitive, and he felt I was. However, a neighbor who is the father of a 12-year-old girl feels just as passionately about the topic as I do. He is so concerned, in fact, that he actually sat down with his daughter to discuss the 'American Idol' song with her, explaining that it sings praises about a crime, and that it is absolutely not a valid — or legal — way to handle heartbreak. I applauded his actions.

   As I hear news reports about celebrities who drink and drive, abuse drugs and alcohol and family members, and enter rehab daily, I pity them, and in the back of my mind, I am thankful my world is so different from theirs.  But the more mainstreamed and "normalized" such behaviors become, through ads for alcohol and rehab, and songs about anger and revenge, the more our children will think that it is OK to do such things because, even if their parents don't do them, the "rest of the world", it will seem, does. 

   As parents, we need to pay attention to what kind of "normal" is playing in the media as the backdrop to our children's lives (and how it relates to the one under our own roof). Then, we need to point out the discrepancies and get our kids thinking about behavior choices through regular conversations with them.

   This will help them understand not only how we, as parents, feel about these behaviors, it will also help them understand they have choices. And surely that will make all the difference when they are inevitably faced with these choices in the real world.