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Sex and violence ... and it’s on the radio

Parents may limit TV and Internet use, but kids can easily pick up adult messages from today’s music. What can you do to protect their ears?
/ Source: TODAY

Since Elvis and the Beatles, music has been a touchy issue between parents and kids. But today's lyrics are more graphic, more violent, and more sexual than ever. "Today" host Katie Couric reports on what your kids are listening to.

Parents out there, take a look at these lyrics:

"Sweat until my clothes come off," goes part of the refrain of Christina Aguilera’s song “Dirty.” “I need that, uh, to get me off.”

Or this rap by Ludacris: “Oh, no! I caught him with a blow to the chest / Oh, no! My hollow put a hole in his vest.”

Or this song by hip-hop artist Jay-Z: “She wanted us to end cause I f----- her friends / She gave me one more chance and I f----- her again.” [Expletive edited by MSNBC.com staff.]

Sex, drugs, alcohol and violence. It’s in today's music and kids are listening to it all.

Rock, pop, hip-hop, you name it, children are bombarded by lyrics and videos portraying women as sex objects, guns as trophies, and life as fleeting and cheap.

Pichon, student: Just growing up with this kind of music, you get so accustomed to it.

But kids are hearing it loud and clear.

Kerstin, student: I think listening to music that has vulgar, inappropriate language in it gives kids the opportunity to use it.

“When we look at the research it indicates that kids who listen to a lot of music, who watch a lot of music videos, actually are at an increased risk for violent behavior, for substance abuse, for risky sexual behavior,” said Dr. Michael Rich, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children's Hospital in Boston.

Does that catch your ear?

“We draw an artificial distinction between entertainment and education in our culture. We think they go to school and learn all the important things they need to learn and then come home and turn their minds off and watch the television,” Rich said.

“They are learning all the time. And they learn as much from Marilyn Manson as they do from Abraham Lincoln.”

Which is why music teacher and mother Deborah Gantt is worried about her 9- and 7-year-old sons, Jack and Dan.

“I know and understand the developmental stages that my child is going through,” said Gantt. “And I know the types of conversations that I want to have with him. However, in the span of a 60-second song, he gets it all. And then I'm forced into conversations that developmentally he's just not ready for yet.”

“This is extremely emotional for parents and kids,” said Linda Hodge, the president of the National PTA. “You know it's a real high priority for kids. Parents are walking a fine line trying to figure out how to balance not letting their kids listen to music that they think is inappropriate.”

There are often edited versions of songs without profanity, and parental advisory labels (issued by The Recording Industry Association of America) do red-flag graphic lyrics and adult content, but the labels are voluntary — they are put on at the discretion of record companies and artists, not child-care experts. Plus, some point out, kids might actually be attracted by the warning.

Mo, student: It's more of an alert. You look at it, and you're like, “Hmm, I want to see what it is.”

The Recording Industry Association of America says that the labels work well, and that parents are satisfied with the program. RIAA labels are not based on age; the organization’s guidelines on its Web site state that “the non-removable label is a ‘heads up’ to parents (and consumers, retailers and wholesalers) that parental discretion is advised when purchasing the particular recording for children or when listening to the recording in the home.”

“I see this as an issue of health — of the physical, mental and social health of our children,” Rich said.

And it’s an issue that's not going away anytime soon.

“What artists tend to say about the work they create is that they are presenting the truth,” said Rob Tannenbaum, an editor at Blender, a magazine that bills itself as the ultimate guide to music. “It's the responsibility of artists to make art that is full of truth. It is not the responsibility of artists to parent your children.”

What can parents do?

  • Look up the lyrics to songs before allowing your kids to listen to them. There are resources available on the Internet.
  • Control what children listen to: Monitor the music they buy and that they download off the Internet, which is where many kids get their music these days. And turn off the radio if you're turned off by the lyrics. “Have an agreement with your children right from the beginning that you have input and power over their decision-making on what they listen to and what they buy,” Rich said.
  • Listen with your children. “See what's there,” he said. “Respond to it, and help them to understand and synthesize what they're being exposed to.”