Lil Wayne and Other Pop Stars Make Being a "Tween" Mother Tough in an iTunes Age

What does Michelle Obama say when Sasha and Malia want to buy Rihanna's latest?

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By Mary Kate Cary, Thomas Jefferson Street Blog

Parents have a long and proud tradition of forbidding their children to listen to certain songs. Back in the early 1980s, I remember my dad outlawing from our teenage household Rod Stewart's "Do You Think I'm Sexy" and "Hot Legs," which now seem almost quaint and naive.

These days, parents still outlaw certain songs—that Lil Wayne song about wanting a girl to lick his lollipop seemed particularly targeted at clueless kids who have no idea that it's about oral sex—but we're also having to take issue with certain artists as well.

The middle school crowd knows exactly who T.I. is (he's facing jail time for weapons charges—but don't worry, Mom, he's a good guy anyway), as well as Eminem, Snoop Dog, Soulja Boy. We had a big family talk this weekend about our sixth grader wanting to buy "Sugar" by Flo Rida for her ringtone, which she had no idea was suggestive. Believe me, that song's not really about sugar. Among the sixth-grade girls, everyone knows Chris Brown is a bad guy now, so that one was easy. But what about Rihanna? Doesn't her immediate return to him send just as strong a message to young girls about abuse? So I added Rihanna to the "do not buy" list, too.

The "do not buy" list is one way I can try to teach my girls. I can't stop them from listening to all rap music, or all hip-hop, or even all pop music. Much of it is fine. Plus, offensive music is everywhere—friends' houses, on the radio in the carpool, even at the ice-skating rink. But I can say we're not going to support certain artists financially, even if it's only 99 cents at a time, by purchasing ring-tones and iTunes of their songs. They don't have to ask permission before every song, but my husband and I reserve the right to audit their iTunes list at any time.

It seems more and more of these pop stars, rappers and hip-hop singers are making "bad choices," as we say in middle school lingo, whether that means drugs, guns, or abusing women. Everyone makes mistakes, but these aren't one-time incidents. At least to me, it looks like many of these stars are making a calculated decision to lead a life that glorifies violence, celebrates drug use, and most of all, hurts women. Sure, some country music stars have spent time in jail, but their songs don't call women "hos" and "bitches" on a regular basis.

To me, this is not about race. It doesn't matter if the singers are black, white or Asian—as Maya Angelou said on the same subject, "All vulgarity is vulgarity. If you mean to demean a person, to make her or him less than whole—anyone could say it, you could say it from a robot—it means that this person is not worthy of my concern." That Lil Wayne song is not about race, it's about demeaning someone else.

I wonder what other moms of "tweens" think about this. We can't ask our own mothers, whose parents were offended by Chubby Checker and Elvis Presley. I'm curious to know how are other families navigating decisions about iTunes these days. In fact, I wonder how the Obama family is handling this. I wonder what Michelle Obama's answer is when Sasha and Malia want to buy a Rihanna song on iTunes.

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    • Mary Kate Cary

      Mary Kate Cary is a former White House speechwriter for President George H.W. Bush. She currently writes speeches for political and business leaders, and is a contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report.

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