When streaming music for my kids, how can I make sure the content is appropriate?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH, is Boston Children’s Hospital’s media expert and director of Boston Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Send him a media-related parenting question via cmch@childrens.harvard.edu and follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Q: We like to stream music from Pandora for my kids, who are in first and second grade. Pop dance music is fun and upbeat, and my children love it. But there is a big jump in maturity from Laurie Berkner and Kids Bop to Today’s Top Hits. And though there are lots of controls to set for Internet, TV, and movies, I can’t really find any for music. What are my monitoring options for streaming music?

Mystified by Music

A: Dear Mystified,

Music is wonderful for kids! Whether they sing along or dance to the rhythm, music can engage them in melodies, develop language skills, and encourage them to move with imagination. You can share with them the music you love, and there is excellent music created especially for kids of different ages in terms of message, rhythm, and sing-along-ability.

As with all media, it’s important to be aware of what the songs are communicating, and I applaud you for asking how to manage that with your kids, especially when you want to vary the music they hear by streaming it online. Controlling what they hear is harder to do if you aren’t just playing music that you choose. Streaming music or listening to the radio raises two issues:

  1. There aren’t ratings for music: Unlike the movie and video game industries, the music industry doesn’t have a rating system. Some albums are marked with a “Parental Advisory” label, but there are no standards for when it’s used—it’s up to the artists’ and producers’ discretion.  Of course, there is no substitute for you pre-screening music for your kids, but Common Sense Media has parent-friendly ratings of particular albums or artists. It doesn’t rate individual Pandora stations, but it can give you a sense of what artists might work best for them.
  2. Some sites allow you block explicit content (including Pandora) and though that can be helpful, it certainly isn’t child-specific.Still, you have some control of what your kids listen to. You can decide your kids’ media diet the same way you determine their food diet—by creating playlists or streaming “stations” for them. Look for streaming music sites designed for kids or use sites that allow you to customize stations to play music you want your kids to hear. If you wish to choose every song, you can create a special gift of musical playlists just for each child on an MP3 player.

Whatever you decide to do will require taking the time to choose the sort of music you want for your kids, to listen to what’s actually playing, and to giving feedback to the streaming site (through thumbs up or thumbs down buttons, for example) on what songs to include or exclude. Staying engaged with your child in the digital domain and being aware of what they’re consuming will help them now and will establish open communication and involvement with their media use as they grow.

Finally, remember that the best “control” for kids’ media use is not a technological block, or even your control, but how they learn to consume media in healthy and safe ways. Take every opportunity to encourage their personal choice and recognize songs that may hurt, confuse, or upset them, and to turn them off or change them.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,

The Mediatrician®

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