Music that tickles the ears of teenagers might, at the same time, incite parents to reach for the “off” switch. But Rich Rasmussen has some advice: Think twice before tuning out those songs — because you may also be tuning out your child in the process.
“Don’t shy yourself so far away that you alienate yourself from your kid’s world,” said Rasmussen, who serves as youth minister at Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Parish. His presentation for parents, “Pop Culture, Your Teen and You,” was held Dec. 18 at the parish school.
Rasmussen said adolescents listen to music on an average of up to six hours a day, and that 51 percent of American teens purchase rap music — much of which contains obscenity-laced lyrics with graphic sexual and violent themes. He observed that even if such content is banned from the home, it can still be easily accessed through a teen’s social circles.
Despite the negative aspects of this music, Rasmussen encourages parents to attempt understanding their children’s attraction to it.
“Don’t panic. Don’t freak out. Open up the lines of discussion,” he said.
Rasmussen said parents should strive to avoid making snap judgments, lest their children feel they’re not understood. In fact, he even ventured that it might be worthwhile for parents to sample music from such artists as Eminem — a rap star known for his vulgar lyrics, but who also conveys personal feelings about his turbulent background in a way that connects strongly with teens.
“He does have some amazing and interesting messages. When you look at it, here’s a guy who’s had not such a great life,” Rasmussen said. “Does he have to drop in all the curse words? Probably not. But as an artist, that’s how he’s portraying all the angst, the feelings of hurt that he had to go through.”
Rasmussen added that in religious-education classes, he has cited the music of Linkin Park and Evanescence — two bands known for their angst-ridden music.
“Teens want reality. They want what’s real; they don’t want anything phony,” he said.
Although Rasmussen is a big fan of Christian rock, he said teens aren’t always open to the Christian tunes that carry cheery messages.
“Sometimes Christian music, in my opinion, can be a little too ‘bubblegummy,'” he said.
On the other hand, Rasmussen is by no means endorsing morally questionable content. At his Dec. 18 lecture, he compared the top 100 songs of 1985 to today’s popular music, noting that in 20 years the messages have swung from subliminal to blatant.
“If I said to the parents ‘don’t worry about the lyrics, everything is fine’ I would be selling myself short. They’re dropping the ‘f-bomb’ and promoting violence to women, violence to other people,” he said. “There’s education that we need to be doing as parents regarding that message.”
Rasmussen’s talk on Dec. 18 focused on Internet usage as well as music. Due to the easy access of Internet pornography, he said this is an area where parents have to be firmly censorship-minded lest their children incur graphic content that impacts them into adulthood.
“Some of that stuff can really seep in,” he said. “Those images stick with you.”
Rasmussen plans more seminars in upcoming months — for youths as well as parents — that will address such media influences as movies and television in which premarital sex, for example, is generally depicted as acceptable. He said that although teens may seemingly rebel against parental viewpoints stating otherwise, deep down they long for their parents’ concern and wish to be taught strong values.
“Their world is so gray — there is no right and wrong, it’s ‘whatever works for you,'” Rasmussen said. “I see that, more and more, they have a hard time with that ambiguity.”
He also said it’s important for Catholic teens to remember that, as Christians, “we are called to be living in the world, but not necessarily be of the world.” Through a combination of strong faith and parental guidance, Rasmussen said he has great hope in teens’ abilities to navigate societal influences.
“I think teens are smart enough to say ‘You know what? I’ve been sold this line from media and advertising, and I really don’t buy it,'” he said.