Watching her children as they play in the yard, a mother cringes when the neighbors’ teenager comes home, windows rolled down, stereo blaring a stream of obscenities and violent language. She reflects on how to handle the situation. Gathering up all of her children and running them into the house, or at least covering their little ears, is hardly practical, and confronting the teen or his parents is not likely to yield very positive results. Seething, she reaches the conclusion that certain types of music should not be allowed at all.
Curbing liberties to protect children is nothing new. We have already placed restraints on the rights of minors, including prohibiting alcohol and tobacco use and requiring that they receive a minimum level of education. Even children whose parents are uninvolved are protected to some extent by these laws, which arise from our awareness that children lack the maturity to make decisions affecting their well-being. Restricting the sale of tobacco, alcohol, or firearms to adults forces the larger society to step in where parents have failed. Mandates extend to protect their emotional and mental health, as well. So restricting music deemed obscene by limiting its sale and keeping it off of the airwaves seems like a logical action to protect minors.
The difference between restricting alcohol and censoring music is that while no one is guaranteed the right to drink, freedom of speech is listed first in the basic civil liberties cherished by the authors of the Constitution, who recognized that allowing the government to arbitrarily decide what opinions could be expressed was contrary to the concept of a democracy. Musicians who use profanity in their lyrics may not be willing to defend their values or moral standards, but they will use the First Amendment to defend their right to say what they will. Given the diverse nature of opinions and values in the United States, choosing even one individual to silence is a dangerous precedent.
Striking a balance between defending our liberties and protecting our children comes down to parental rights. It is not the right of a teacher, scout leader or coach to expose children to anything, be it music or any other media, which they can reasonably expect might be contrary to the parents’ wishes. Parents who have no such scruples are free to allow these things in their own homes, including deciding when their child is capable of choosing their own music, or purchasing music for them when it comes with a parental advisory.
No matter how sheltered they are, children will be exposed to ideas and language that their parents will think undesirable. Ultimately, parents are responsible for imparting their values to their children. An unexpected experience with song lyrics that denigrate women, or promote violent behavior can lead to a meaningful discussion, not only about the values expressed by the music, but our own appreciation of the fact that we can share our ideals without restriction.
A parent’s right to limit their child’s exposure to negative influences expires at adulthood. A child who has been well-prepared by his parents will be able to take his new-found freedom in stride, being confident in the values he has been taught. Those who have been parented only by the law and the public system will at least have reached some level of maturity before being allowed to navigate dangerous territory.
Byline: Suzanne Withers is a seasoned writer on children’s issues, as well as on social networking sites such as badoo.