Safe & Sound
– By Tom Piotrowski
©2003, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding
Various members of the band Good Charlotte are jumping around the stage of the Philadelphia Spectrum in front of a packed house of 18,000, mostly teenage fans. The lead singer’s lips look glued to the microphone in front of his face as his body thrashes around. The music crescendos at a blistering pace and the crowd’s attention is intense. They’re waiting for something.
The first verse slams to a screeching halt as the guitarist screams a note down the frets of his electric guitar. The singer pauses, then belts the first word of the well-known chorus the crowd was eagerly waiting for: “Everything’s gonna be alright now … everything’s gonna be alriiiight!” Swirling spotlights illuminate the crowd and from my vantage point in the first level at the corner of the stage, I can see the entire throng singing every syllable and pogo-jumping in place. It’s an amazing sight. Even though the song does not reside on my list of personal favorites, a tingle runs up and down my spine. This is exciting!
The tingle subsides as I remember a high school physics lesson on harmonics, where a concrete and steel bridge twisted like a silk ribbon in the wind before collapsing. “How many of these pogo jumpers would have to jump in sync to bring this place down?” I thought. I wondered if any of the other hundreds of parents in the crowd were thinking the same thing. I counted 42 parents in my section alone that were accompanying their youngsters to the show. I tried to average the total number by multiplying the sections in the venue. These are the thoughts of a 42-year-old parent accompanying a young son to his first public concert. I am no concert neophyte. But now it’s my son who wants to go to concerts and I’m not all that thrilled by these tricky decisions my wife and I now face.
I shouldn’t be surprised my son desires to witness live music from artists who have caught his fancy. We’ve fostered a love for music in our house both by example and by encouragement. His growing drum outfit costs more than my car. Music is a big part of our lives. We scrutinize and savor the best of both secular and sacred music. So why is this new parental dilemma so unsettling? I’m uncomfortable because, at a concert, I know my son would be standing shoulder to shoulder with many who do not share the same worldview our family is nurturing. He’ll be listening to artists who often proclaim philosophies and worldviews diametrically opposed to those his mother and I have taken such great measures to instill. One teen has been in and out of our house already. During that time, we used the wisdom culled from working with hundreds of teenage music lovers and my own experiences to fashion some kind of template for decision-making regarding concerts. It was amazing how the usual answer that resulted from that process was “NO!” Parental authority is still the number one determining factor in our house. But I’m realizing that effective parenting requires much more than giving our children a rule. We need to give them a ruler.
I can’t expect my young sons will reason with the same spiritual wisdom and seasoning that comes with maturity. But I do desire they learn early how to integrate their young faith into everything they do. I understand better now one of the best gifts I can give them is a spiritual tool kit. I want to provide practical devices to help them build lives of their own, but ones where their faith is integrated daily to promote a Christ-like walk. One of those tools is a concert music-meter. Here’s how it works…
We started out with the premise that this process was always going to be a struggle between what we know to be right and what our sinful nature craved. (See Romans 7.) We had to commit ourselves to a deliberate process of discovery and pursuit of wisdom. We made what might be the last valid pinky-promise in our house to think through this together in the prayer of maintaining a healthy spiritual, emotional and physical life.
Families—DO ask these five questions about concerts:
1) Am I putting the artists above God as someone I worship? What are my emotional and spiritual ties to the artists? Do I depend on them for solace and answers more than I do my God?
2) Am I spiritually fit enough to witness unexpected activity outside my spiritual attempt to be pure and holy. For Christians, the world should always present some level of discomfort as we go places and see things contrary to what we know to be good and true. But sometimes the unforeseen can hit when our guard is down and knock us to the mat. Are we strong enough to take an unexpected blow in a venue outside our comfort zone?
3) What do we know about the artist(s), their lifestyles and their worldviews? Does the artist boldly “shake a fist” at God and his commands, or is the artist articulating questions someone seeking God asks? For example, the secular band Train currently has a charting single titled “Calling All Angels.” The singer laments the state of the world, but knows there is some spiritual force out there to rescue him. The singer’s lament is not unholy because he does not yet claim the one and only true God as the answer. His searching is actually biblical and should make us want to reach out to him and those who feel the same way. His quest does not automatically disqualify his art from being consumed, interpreted and even enjoyed.
4) What are the themes in the music? Are they destructive or contrary to what we know to be good, profitable and true? Will I be tempted by the themes or content of the show? Music is a powerful conveyer of messages. We should never underestimate any genre of music’s potential to lead our thinking astray, at any age.
5) Will the concert venue be a safe place for me physically? Is the venue a regular provider of similar events? Should I expect illegal drugs and alcohol in use? Is there any history of violence or civil disobedience at venues where the artists has performed?
Concert behavior has begun to reflect the unrest of the world as a forum for acting out. Safety has to be a major concern for guys and girls, big and small. Too many news stories have reported injuries and death from poor venue management or reckless behavior. Like it or not, my guys will have to suffer my presence at any public event for a long time. Even so, all venues should be scrutinized and parents should provide communication capabilities in case of separation. Communication capabilities today provide for regular, even immediate check-ins.
A negative response in any of these five categories can throw the meter reading off and scuttle a plan. Truthfully, it’s hard to find acts today that do get a perfect reading. Even Christian concerts need to be evaluated. So parental wisdom and Biblical wisdom must be applied as the final divining rod. Don’t expect all decisions to be popular. You should realize your discernment is a lesson that needs to be taught in a world where anything goes.
My son and I decided that the Good Charlotte concert was safe for us to attend. At first glance and listen, these popular new artists look and sound like they belong in the ranks of the anti-establishment Punk scene. Closer examination surprises. The band is vocal about their interest in Christianity. One member sports an intricate tattoo of the Last Supper on his forearm. The Cross is prominently displayed on stage. The band unabashedly talks about being hopeful in the midst of struggles.
Their worldview and persona does not mesh up perfectly with mine. But these are young men with unique backgrounds, and they are spiritual searchers who are considering Christianity as well. We decided they were worth a look, and I’m glad we did. My son and I talk about the band and their songs many times. It’s provided me some valuable talking points for teaching him. As parents, there are a few other distinctives we need to consider as we address this often emotionally charged debate with our young ones.
Parents—DON’T take these four steps:
1) Don’t discount the relationship young people have with music. Music has always been one of the most influential and powerful art forms. Music has always had the power to teach, soothe and inspire. Teens, especially, are likely to use music as a device to help steer the boat on the bumpy ride we know as adolescence. Our role is to help them learn how to interpret, not only the messages they cling to, but to help them acknowledge the shifts and upheaval they feel as they grow.
2) Don’t dismiss their music as irrelevant. While I hate that a favorite old tune qualifies for air play on an “oldies” station, I still feel awash with warm memories when a song reminds me of particular time or event from the past. I laugh sometimes at how much the soundtrack of my life has changed over the years. Yet the personal importance of the song is not diminished. Parents need to do some discovery regarding the influences of the music our kids listen to. The hints may provide clues to problems our kids are engaged with, and should help us bridge some of the generation gap we call across to reach the youth of today.
3) Don’t leave concert decisions up to your young people. Concerts are more than a place to hear a favorite musician in person. They are celebrations of ideas shared or adopted through popular art marketed to mass millions of consumers. Some songs become recognizable anthems for an entire generation. The collective celebration of ideals with throngs of like-minded revelers can be a thrilling and heady experience. Concerts make you feel like you are part of something bigger than life. The pull is strong, especially for young developing minds. But the decision to attend a concert needs to go through a diligent process with you and your young person.
4) Don’t deny the effect you can have on the way they respond to music. There’s a funny TV commercial currently running where a teen is surprised to spot his middle-aged father living it up just next to him in a muddy, concert mosh pit. His reaction turns to severe dismay when he sees his mother gleefully crowd surfing over the sea of fans in front of him. The youngster is surely thinking, “But this is my music.”
Today, especially, music culture drives the culture at large. And believe it or not, our kids want to know what we think about their music. Don’t mind what you think you hear them say. They care about your input, and will process the information in the way that only a surging, mutating teenage brain can. Meanwhile, we should continue the battle to keep them safe and sound from the sometimes dangerous din of pop culture.
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For more information on resources to help you understand today’s rapidly changing youth culture, contact the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding.