Raising Kids Takes Common Sense

As my kids get older, I am having to negotiate the world of popular culture more and more, and no one issued me a road map back when the kids were born. I get all these questions like "Can I buy a song by Eminem? The Lonely Island? The Black Eyed Peas? Lil Wayne?" I am forced to give some thought to artists (and I use the term loosely) upon whom I'd really rather not expend brain cells.

Take Lil Wayne, for example. I do not live under a rock, but I spend a lot of time moving mountains of them, and thus, I have not been able to keep up on exactly who Lil Wayne is, or whether or not I should or would object to his music. And I use that term loosely too.

So today, when I received a text from my boys, asking if they could purchase the song How To Love, by Mr. Lil Wayne, or Mr. Wayne, or however one formally addresses this person, I really wasn't sure how to respond. On my own, I am ill-equipped to answer questions like this from my kids; who has the time or the desire to keep on all this stuff?

Enter Common Sense Media, an online resource "dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology." I took that text right from their mission statement, on their About Us page, which also has a listing of CSM's 10 Beliefs about media, all of which I can get behind.

CSM hosts an interactive site where parents and kids can find useful information about all kinds of media, from movies and websites, to books and music. I've used it for years to look up movies and see what people are saying about them. CSM offers a suggested age for which a movie or song is appropriate, as well as extensive written reviews. Parents, educators, and kids can also sign up to provide their own age-ratings and written reviews. I usually read the reviews written by CSM; my son gravitates to those written by young people. I find it incredibly helpful to read these reviews; they help me feel like I am armed with information, not flying blind while making decisions that matter to me about what my kids see, read and hear.

I don't always adhere to the suggestions on CSM and that's not the point. CSM wants to give us information we can use to make our own decisions for our families. I especially appreciate that they include Consumerism in the list of things they rate; I like to know what products are going to be in my kids' faces and how they will be marketed to by what they watch. CSM also rates things like drinking and drug use, language, sex, and violence. Plus, they answer the question "Is it any good?" which I also appreciate, because I had to sit through that stupid hamster movie a few years ago and it was dreadful.

Today was the first time I've ever used it for music; I looked up that Mr. Wayne song my boys wanted (on my smart phone with CSM's mobile app, no less!), and got the following:

common sense media says: Cleanest song yet from notoriously raunchy rapper.

Parents need to know that "How to Love" is one of the cleanest singles released to date by Lil Wayne. There's no profanity or violence and just one muted reference each to sex and drinking. Moreover, the song offers a positive message to girls and women, encouraging them to have high self-esteem. For younger teens who just have to listen to Lil Wayne, this is the best choice around.

See? I learned that Mr. Lil is one of those "notoriously raunchy rappers," which I did not know, and I also learned that this particular song has some good features in it and little to object to.

Still, I was on the fence. Because my kids certainly do not need Lil Mr. in their lives or their ears, but we are trying to give them enough exposure to popular culture so that we don't turn it into something absolutely forbidden and therefore even more attractive.

Did they get to buy the song or not? Well, that's not what this post is about. The point is, I realized today how much I appreciate what Common Sense Media does, and I thought that other parents like me, who wish they had more information about the media their kids are interested in, who want to navigate the world of popular culture, not hide from it or be passive in it, would want to know that this kind of help is available. And there's more: I noticed just today that CSM has tools and resources for helping kids become savvy internet users, including how to use Facebook wisely. They also engage in advocacy, providing a needed, independent voice to the debate about media in our culture. They do much more than I knew, even though I've been clicking around on their site for years.

In this media-saturated culture, when our kids are bombarded by so much more than we were and so much more than we even know, a resource like CSM is invaluable. CSM isn't making any decisions for us, but it is giving us what we need to feel good about the decisions we make for our kids.

Check it out: one more tool in your arsenal can only be a good thing, right?

Because raising kids? Is actually warfare.

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Kelly said…
I have developed a strange appreciation for the over-sexed R&B of today. I think it's because I need jogging music, and the Grateful Dead or Tori Amos don't cut it. I'm going to bookmark Common Sense Media. Seems like a very helpful thing!
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