Why I Let My Tiny Kids Sing Along to Profane Music


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My 7-year-old sings loudly, happily, and lustily, but not in the same sense as Hercules from Hamilton: The Musical:

"Yes, I am Hercules Mulligan, up in it, lovin' it.

Yes, I heard your mother say, 'Come again!'

Lock up your daughters and horses.

Of course, it's hard to have intercourse over four sets of corsets!"

Blaise doesn't quite knows what this part means, especially the "come again" part. But he knows exactly what Hercules Mulligan is saying when he yells later that when you "knock me down I get the FUCK back up again!" And my baby sings it. He sings it loud.

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A lot of people think it's wrong to let kids sing along to profane music. After all, the thinking goes, it first teaches them cuss words. Then, it teaches them the context for cuss words and what those words mean. Soon, they're traipsing around the playground, spraying out "shit" and "damn" and the dreaded f-word, teaching all the other innocent little angels those bad, bad words.

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This fear is, I think, pretty stupid. Sure, I get that if you are someone who thinks these words are a literal sin against God, you likely don't say them and don't want your kids hearing them. But I guarantee other kids have heard them, usually from their own parents. My kids hear them slip from between my rosy-red lips, and they hear them from my husband. They're going to hear them on the playground too, because kids don't just pick up cuss words from Hamilton, they pick them up at home. Like my 5-year-old looking at something in a gift shop and deadpanning, "What the hell is that?" He didn't hear that phrase in a song. He picked it up from me or my husband.

In a Carolina Parent article called "Why Kids Swear and What to Do About It," Dr. Timothy Jay, a psychology professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and the author of Why We Curse, says, "Swearing is not like a spice added to food. It's part of the food, the emotional food ... and learning taboo words at a young age is normal."

So, despite the alarm people feel when they find out I let my kids listen to rated R music, my children aren't being exposed to anything out of the ordinary. Of course, not everyone agrees with my take on the matter. One of my sons' own grandmothers disagrees, and we had to have a serious conversation this summer before we visited her.

"Blaise?" I said. "You know how you love to sing Hamilton?"

"Yeah?" he said, as if I were the biggest idiot in the world. He was pretending to be the Marquis de Lafayette at the time.

"You can't sing Hamilton in front of Gam-Gam. Because there are some words, like shit and fuck, that she will totally flip out if you say. Like, she will start yelling at you. Then she will hunt me down and yell at me. So please do not sing Hamilton. Or if you sing Hamilton, don't sing those parts, okay?"

"Okay." He shrugged. And that was that. Because even though I let my kids listen to all kinds of profane music, they know what they're allowed to say and when. This is because kids are smart. Kids can compartmentalize. And what they don't compartmentalize flies right over their heads.

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For example, my all-time-favorite, one-record-on-a-desert-island band is the Velvet Underground, known for their, well, grittiness -- like all their songs about buying and using heroin.

My kids have no freaking clue what lyrics like "I put a spike into my vein" actually mean. In fact, they call the band's signature song "Heroin" "The Viking Song," because the singer says he wishes he could sail "on a great big clipper ship / Going from this land here to that."

My kids also recently got enamoured with '90s pop, through a friend's Spotify playlist. This means I listen to the Spice Girls' "Wannabe" about four times a day, and it's wormed its way into my soul. My three boys gleefully belt out, "If you wanna be my lover / You gotta get with my friends." No, they do not know what a lover is. They do not care. It's just a word in a song, something to mouth to the beat. I've got no problem with that.

But their favorite song, bar none, is the Ramones classic "Beat on the Brat." They, unfortunately, know exactly what this song means, and they freaking love it. Everyone down to the 3-year-old shakes my car yelling, "Beat on the brat / Beat on the brat with a baseball bat!" But here's the key: As much as they love the song, it doesn't provoke beatings, with baseball bats or otherwise. They like the rhythm; they like the drums; they like the transgressive lyrics. But they don't carry it over into the real world, because they know it's not appropriate.

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I have a friend who only listens to Christian music when her kids are in the car, though her personal tastes run more toward serious rap. She thought she was shielding them from bad words and bad ideas. Then her small son piped up, "Mama? Why is something covered in blood?" Um ... yeah. So you might as well just turn off the radio if you're that hell-bent on avoiding anything "profane."

If you do choose to expose your kids to adult music, you have to be willing to answer questions. Like, if my 5-year-old suddenly decided to ask what "intercourse" is, or "lover," or "fuck." It'll come one day. And I'm lucky enough to have an open relationship with my kids in which I'd be able to say something like, "The word 'fuck' means lots of things. It's a word we use for emphasis, or it can also mean to have sex." My kids know what sex is too. We're body-positive over here.

Call me a bad mom, call me a monster, or say I'm coarsening society. But cuss words, like them or not, are all around us here in this great land, as nouns and verbs and adjectives, as adverbs and exclamations. So it shouldn't stop children from hearing some great music, as long as they know those words better not come out of their mouths when they aren't singing. And the words don't. And I'm proud of my kids; proud they can sing Hamilton; proud they know the Velvet Underground and Green Day and the Ramones and, yes, even the Dead Milkmen's "Bitchin' Camaro."

I'm also proud that they're learning there's a time and a place for everything. It's a life lesson.

It's also some damn good tunes.

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