Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Children’s Hospital Boston’s media expert and director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston
Q: My six year old loves music, and I would like her to have something digital with which to listen to a variety of good music. I want her to have a certain level of independence as she explores her musical tastes, but I don’t want to get her something too advanced. My husband often lets her use his iPhone to search YouTube for a song she likes—then suggestions come up for others like it. I am not comfortable with trusting her musical exploration to marketing search engines, and I want to inspire her to just listen to good music. What do you advise?
A: Dear Harmony,
Today’s technology offers great ways to allow your daughter a way to explore musical tastes in a controlled environment. There are a few different options, each of which has advantages and challenges:
- MP3 players: If you’re concerned about the musical content to which she’s exposed, an MP3 player may be your best choice. You can preselect the songs, and you won’t need to worry about marketing or commercials. You’ll likely need to show her how to use the various controls as she needs them. The main challenge for her may be that MP3 players are text based, so how easy it is for her to use will depend in part on her reading skills. Even before she can read, however, she can enjoy a broad and eclectic variety of music on shuffle play.
- Online streaming services: Services like Pandora will constantly update song lists based on your (or her) preferences. Such a service will expose her to a wider variety of music than you might be able to provide her, and at less expense. But you can’t be sure what songs will get through the filters, and if you use free services, there will likely be marketing and commercial content as well.
- YouTube: YouTube covers an ever-expanding range of music types, including a children’s version, and it’s “free”. But it is free of charge because it includes advertising, both on the site and embedded in many videos. YouTube also adds a visual element, which means she’ll see other people’s interpretations of songs. At times, that can be a lot of fun, but it may add images she’s not ready for, and the visual component changes the creative interaction between child and music. By supplying images to go with the story, music videos can take away the opportunity for your daughter to use her own imagination. Each time she hears that music, she will recall someone else’s images rather than her own. If the goal is listen to music, then the video component can limit her own imaginative possibilities. Note, however, that many YouTube videos of songs contain a static image of the album cover or the lyrics, rather than actual video, so those videos may be good options for your child.
Deciding which to choose will depend on your priorities: If you want to control the content, an MP3 player is likely the best option. If you want her to be exposed to the most variety, then online streaming may be best. If you do use online streaming or YouTube, consider having an adult present while she uses those services to help filter and interpret content that may otherwise be upsetting or confusing.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,