Last week on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, Kanye West performed his song “Bound 2″ live with a children’s choir singing back-up. For those who don’t know, this is not a song that includes family-friendly lyrics.
At the end of August, Miley Cyrus twerking and performing Cirque de Soleil tricks with her tongue at the Video Music Awards lit the Internet on fire. But Yeezy making sleazy in front of a bunch of ten year olds didn’t get an admonishing tweet. Why? Because it was aired on late night? Because he’s a black man living up to certain stereotypes? Or could it be because the kids were black boys, a demographic we don’t worry about too much in this country? I’m thinking all of the above.
I am actually a fan of Kanye, and have even… well, not defended the misogyny on his album Yeezus, but not found it that upsetting. He’s not the first rapper to talk about such things. As a middle schooler, me and my friends would listen to Two Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be, which at the time set the bar for most sexually explicit rap lyrics. This is the album that includes the hip-hop classic “Me So Horny.”
Today I still listen to and love hip-hop, and so does my four-year-old son, Felix. I can’t listen to rock for too long before he says, “put on something with a bigger beat.” But like most kids, he’s all ears, and so I censor some of what I play. No matter how infectious I find the sample, I avoid songs like Kanye’s “Bound 2″ because it’s too explicit. Songs that drop an f-bomb or three, that’s ok. We live in New York, and it’s impossible to walk down the street without hearing curse words. But sexually explicit lyrics are something I feel the need to keep from him for now.
This got me thinking. What were some of the things that I used to do as a kid, but which I now worry about as a parent? Listening to explicit rap music is one. Click on to find out more…
Listening to Explicit Hip-Hop 1 of 7
Is off-limits when my son's around. Click on to find out more things that I used to love but now, as a parent, worry about...
Watching Television 2 of 7
How much TV we watched was rarely debated, as my parents almost always had one on. When I made it to middle school, my parents let me have their old black and white set in my room. The thing was mammoth, and took up half the space on my bureau. As long as it was before ten o'clock, I could mostly watch what I wanted.
These days, I'm all over Felix's TV habits, monitoring how long and what he's watching. On afternoons when he's really tired, or I need to get on the computer and work, I let him watch more than his usual hour's worth, and then fret about it the rest of the day, feeling guilty. As if letting your kid watch TV is a failure in parenting! But some consider it to be, and I know of kids who don't have much access to screens.
The amount of TV I watched was never something I thought about as a kid, or that I remember having many discussions about with my parents. TV was a good thing, a constant presence, not a source of worry or debate.
Eating Healthy 3 of 7
Try serving Felix an apple in the middle of the summer and he's quick to tell you, "These aren't in season right now. I want something fresher. Like blueberries."
Felix is aware of what fruits and vegetables are in season and where they come from because he hears me and my wife talking about it. We obsess over our food! We shop at a food coop, where nearly everything is organic, and most of the packaged food brands are small and family owned. Even healthy things, like milk, he enjoys in moderation. And there are still a lot of foods that he's never tasted. Soda, for example. Fast food. He only recently had his first donut!
This is very different to when I was growing up, when the only food I remember my parents caring about was sugary cereals. (They were expensive and would rot your teeth.) When I was about Felix's age, or maybe a tad bit older, I remember getting really happy and feeling like the whole world was spinning after my mom and dad gave me special juice. Turns out they fed me some of a wine cooler, which were all the suburban rage in the eighties (along with daiquiris). Nowadays, that would be grounds for child abuse! And yet still, I turned out fine.... Alright, fine-ish.
Staying Safe 4 of 7
When Felix zooms down the block on his trike, people sometimes ask where his helmet is. He has one at home, which he wears when he rides his two wheeler, but we've never required he wear safety gear on his trike. This is a risky move in today's safety-obsessed culture.
As a middle schooler, I rode my bike along streets busy with cars, making a forty-five minute trip from my house to my best friend's, some distance away. I never wore a helmet, and my parents never asked me to. It just wasn't on my radar. It's only been in the past few years that I've gotten a bike helmet. And once, on a playground — a playground covered in asphalt and not rubberized surface — a friend clunked me in the head with the seat of a seesaw, the kind of seesaws you rarely find any more, because they're so unsafe!
Traveling the World 5 of 7
Like many kids I looked forward to going away, it's just that I never had to wonder where we would go or what we might do there — the only place we vacationed being Cape May, New Jersey. The Gresko Family Vacation was essentially the same vacation every year, and it's pleasures were in repeating the same ritualized visits to restaurants, beaches, and boardwalks.
In college I began traveling beyond those prescribed paths, and already Felix has a sense that his mom and dad are travelers. He sees photos from Asia and Europe, and souvenir plates and ceramics, around the house. He even knows that we took a big trip to Spain, where we came back with him growing his mommy's tummy.
He often asks about when we'll go away, and where we'll go. He has a puzzle map of North America, and picks out spots that he'd like to visit. Very different from his old man, who never considered that there was a big world out there to explore till he reached adulthood.
Surfing the Web 6 of 7
Do you monitor your kids' online chatting and social media lives, let them navigate it on their own, or come down somewhere in between? How do you make sure they don't learn about sex, drugs, and violence by looking at inappropriate websites? I didn't have to worry about this stuff as a kid BECAUSE THE INTERNET DIDN'T EXIST.
Though the video game Leisure Suit Larry did, a game in which players navigated Larry through casinos and bars with the goal of scoring women. I once came in on my neighbor's sons, men in their late twenties and early thirties, looking at a rough, pixelated image of a woman's breasts while playing the game. They shut it down, but for weeks I scoured the computer, searching for Larry. (They hadn't uploaded it. They were playing from, if you can believe it, a floppy disk.)
The upside? I became computer literate. But whereas the potent combination of sex and technology excited my teenage brain (and, I'll admit, my grown-up brain too), it worries me when I think about my son engaging with it.
Spending Time Alone 7 of 7
I didn't go to pre-school, and until I was in kindergarten, don't remember having many friends aside from my cousins. I spent a lot of time at home, with my mom, playing with blocks and reading stories. I was a bit of a loner, a trait that stayed with me even through high school.
Today, I worry about how my son is socializing with other kids, and have gone out of my way to provide him opportunities to do so. Even when playdates haven't gone well, I've made them anyway, figuring it would be good practice for him, and fretting about his ability to socialize. The thing is, kids move at their own pace, and what's the problem with a kid who wants to spend time by himself or hanging out with adults anyway?
As this list demonstrates, there are a lot of things we worry about today as parents that weren't of concern when we were kids. Some of these worries I think are more legitimate than others. I'm going to keep the nasty hip-hop out of the mix for now, but maybe I shouldn't be worrying so much about my son's socializing habits. What do you think?