by Amanda Parry
I owe MTV an immense debt of gratitude.
Before I had kids, I assumed children exercised themselves, like hamsters. When I was a child, I never sat still. Anything worth doing involved running around like a maniac. My daughter takes after me, but my son prefers more sedentary activities, which, I’ve been told, can come with the autism territory.
So, when the video for Sia’s “Chandelier” got him up and dancing, I was thrilled. Never mind that it features a prepubescent girl in a flesh-colored leotard twirling around a crack den. For the first time all day he wasn’t drawing pictures of hand dryers or standing in the corner pretending to use a hand dryer or begging for five more minutes to watch videos of hand dryers on YouTube. (Yes, people actually record these things. Forget a parental block for porn; I need one for commercial appliances.)
My daughter enjoyed it, too, although it was Bruno Mars who made her snap to attention. The first time I played the video for “Uptown Funk,” she froze in place, and her jaw dropped. She stood watching for a few moments, every muscle in her body tense, before turning to me with shining eyes. Had she been capable of speech at that moment, I know exactly what she would have said: “F–k the Wiggles.”
Some might say it’s a bad idea for kids to watch music videos. But if you stream them through YouTube and choose them yourself, it can be relatively harmless. My children and I have had some good times rocking out to the music industry’s less explicit offerings.
And yes, please note the “less explicit” part. Although the majority of MTV’s fare resembles nothing more than bad porn with good lighting, some videos are tame. Kind of. Tame in the sense that all the inappropriateness goes right over my kids’ heads, and the raciest of the racy bits are no worse than your average breath mint commercial.
My kids love Taylor Swift’s song “Style.” They have no idea it is about a booty call. If I told them that the “bass” of which Meghan Trainor sings is actually a bottom, they would — well, they would be delighted because they are 6 and 4, and what’s funnier than butts, right? But surprised. They would be surprised because they have no idea what the words mean.
And that’s the beauty of it, for now.
My kids got hooked on pop music by their babysitter, who is, incidentally, not a gum-chewing teenager with a subscription to “Tiger Beat,” but a 40-something boxing trainer at her brother’s gym. (She is awesome, and no, I’m not sharing her contact details. Find your own boxing instructor to babysit.)
This was how my 4-year-old came to inform me one day that she was “bringing booty back.”
Inappropriate? Yeah, but in my defense some of the so-called children’s music out there is just as bad.
Don’t believe me? Okay then, the lyric “Relax and try to like it” appeared in which song: a) the pop hit “Blurred Lines” (an anthem to date rape or seduction; no one has figured out which), or b) “Bicycle Built for Two” from the Backyardigans episode “Chichen Itza Pizza”?
It was the children’s show, THANK YOU VERY MUCH.
And does anyone else get creeped out when Doc McStuffins murmurs, “It’s okay if you giggle; this will only tickle a little,” while fondling her toys in the name of medicine? I mean, okay, Doc, no giggling, but can I vomit? Because that’s weird.
Then there are the songs that are just plain wrong. The first time “Swanee River” came on our “Mickey Mouse Sings Songs From America’s Shameful Past” or whatever that 40-track CD is called, I almost crashed the car into a bridge abutment. Did the singer just use the word “Lawdy”? Is he saying he misses life as a slave on a plantation? What the eff, Disney?
So, no, I don’t feel completely terrible that Jack and Charlie listen to pop songs. In my estimation, anything that gets Jack moving is worth the occasional moments of public embarrassment it can cause.
The other day, the teenage cashier at the grocery store had a good laugh when Jack warbled the opening lines to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”
“He likes that song?” he asked.
“It’s not his favorite,” I answered.
“What’s his favorite?”
“The theme song to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’”
He stopped laughing, and the woman behind me put her hand to her mouth and gasped. She actually gasped. Who does that after the 19th century?
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” I told her. “They don’t talk about the movie or the, um, content or anything.”
She shook her head in disapproval.
I sooo wanted to turn to Jack and say:
“Honey, what’s ‘sexual bondage’? You don’t know? How about ‘submissive’? No? ‘Safety word’?”
And then turn back to her and declare:
“Told you so.”
Of course, my cavalier attitude came back to bite me when he began singing it in line at a Starbucks the next day. Nothing like your kindergartner belting to a packed crowd: “Love me like you do! Ta-ta-touch me like you do! WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR????” I am astounded no one has called the fine, hardworking men and women of Children and Youth Services on us yet.
Believe it or not, I do have a few ground rules about watching videos, apart from nothing featuring strippers. Or Kesha. My children absolutely cannot watch them right before bed. I know some of you might think me a hard ass for this, but it’s just the way I was raised.
The one evening their DAD let them do this, they were so riled up it took more than an hour to get them to sleep. It didn’t help that he played the video for Taylor Swift’s “Blank Space,” which they hadn’t seen before, and I definitely wouldn’t have allowed them to watch.
My son was fascinated by this video, which features Swift acting like a psychotic, jealous girlfriend. She rants and raves at this guy and trashes his stuff and sticks a knife into a cake filled with blood. You know, kids’ stuff.
There was silence for a few minutes, and then I heard Jack sigh: “I want to put a knife in a tree, just like Taylor Swift.”
Now that I think about it, perhaps I was a little hasty about the hand dryers.
Amanda Parry, 38, grew up in Chestnut Hill and attended Germantown Friends School from kindergarten through 12th grade. She started the blog UnexceptionalParenting.com to let off steam and draw some attention to autism and pediatric cancer charities. She lives in North Carolina. Her parents, George, a former federal prosecutor, and Natalie, still live in Chestnut Hill.