Earbuds Made My Teens Tune Me Out, So I Changed How We Listen to Music

How my husband and I turned the tables on our teens and got them to unplug and open up about their favorite musical artists. By Nicole A. Roach
Earbuds Made My Teens Tune Me Out, So I Changed How We Listen to Music

I’m not quite sure when earbuds took over our kids' lives, but eventually they did -- and I wasn't happy about it. I also wasn't surprised when my teens became more plugged in. After all, I remember listening to Michael Jackson, Prince, David Bowie, Hall and Oates, Run-DMC, and tons of '80s music on my Walkman when I was their age.

Back then, headphones were not that comfortable (nor was the sound coming from them that great), cassette tapes got easily mangled, CDs skipped, batteries died quickly, and albums were pricey. But today's combination of low-cost streaming services, algorithmically driven playlists, and endless music options make it much easier for kids to escape into their earbuds for hours.

So when my husband and I noticed our teens increasingly tuning us out as they washed dishes, hung out in their rooms, or traveled in the car, we became curious about what they were listening to and how they were interpreting the lyrics they were hearing. We decided to try an experiment: Every time we were driving together, each person would take turns DJing by connecting their device to our dashboard stereo. We would listen together and talk about the artist, the music, the lyrics, and why our kid liked the song. What that meant was not only did our teens select songs, but my husband and I also shared our picks, as well as our thoughts on some of the iffy content in our kids' music.

Daily car rides were filled with a diverse mix of songs from the likes of Rihanna, Stevie Wonder, The Weeknd, Curtis Mayfield, Drake, Erykah Badu, Steel Pulse, Logic, Nina Simone, Kehlani, and more. My husband and I got a better understanding of our kids' expanding tastes, as well as a chance to share stories about our own teen years. Believe it or not, some great conversations emerged, and as an added bonus, we came across a handful of artists we agreed on (beyond Michael Jackson).

Now it's become a family ritual as we drive to dinner, on errands, or on road trips. As soon as we get in the car, everyone scrambles to be the first one to connect to the stereo. And while it isn't always easy sitting through some of the songs my teens (or even my husband) selects, I'm happy we've discovered another way to share media and memories together.

If you're looking for ways to talk to your kids about their music, here are some conversation starters to get you going:

Talk about creativity. Every generation has a different sensibility about music. I remember my parents raising a skeptical brow at my selections. So discussing music as an art form can be very enlightening. Ask: How does music change through different time periods? What types of things inform an artist's lyrics? How do different genres help an artist convey his or her ideas? Why did this artist choose certain instrumentation? And, even: Why do you like this song?

Talk about the iffy stuff.strong language or explicit lyrics, use it as an opportunity to share your values about whether they're appropriate -- either in a song or real life. Ask: Why did the artist use these lyrics? Does explicit language make the song better? Could the song have been as effective without it? Why, or why not?

Talk about marketing in the music industry. Help kids understand that an artist's performance, persona, and presentation are about selling albums -- not necessarily how they conduct themselves in the real world. Ask: What makes music sell? Does popular always means good? And: How does the software created by media and tech companies keep us plugged in?

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About Nicole A. Roach

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Nicole Atkinson Roach is a two-time Emmy Award-winning producer, director, and writer and the VP of video at Common Sense. She executive-produces a variety of videos, including parent tips as well as movie, game, and TV... Read more

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Comments (6)

Adult written by Amanda P.

I was just spending time with my friend’s two step-daughters, and they really bonded with me in just one day because I actually spent time with them and asked them questions about their life. I think many parents forget how important just listening and being interested is. All you have to do is make your kids feel like they’re really important and be interested in their lives. A great way to bond is by learning together too… here’s a cool site: www.preparemykid.com
Parent of a 15 year old written by frogsandlilypads

Thank-you! I will be sharing this with my families I teach. I remember sitting in the car listening to Dolly Parton and Melanie with my mom when I was a teen. I didn’t really think about it much at the time, but it paved the way for me to naturally do the same with my children. They 16 and 18 now and I have never had a problem with earbuds in the car. My 16 year old makes a game out of it and keeps me on my toes by saying, “Quick, Mom. Who sings this?” and is genuinely proud when I know the answer. (She feels she’s teaching me something relevant!)
Parent written by DanielM 6

Some good tips there... but re your music mix, can you really say that is diverse? or is there something in common across these artists? musically there is a common thread, but to miss the ethnic exclusivity, seems bizarre. ... can you really call that mix diverse? covers a number of decades, some real classics.. but diverse?? .. Again, some good ideas there, if your kids have their ear buds in at every chance of course that disconnecting. Great to open up chats instead of just saying "no ear buds while in x,y or z".
Adult written by jennyjet

I love this article! As the founder of a kids' mobile platform, I'm often asked about the downside of building more tech for kids. I try to remind parents that technology is NOT the enemy of family relationships -- there are lots of ways to use it to spark conversation, deepen connections, and, of course, have lots of laughs. Your tips are great. Thanks!
Adult written by jmarmstr73

I could not agree more with this! I do this with my daughter who loves music and it lets me into her world and creates conversation points. Great article!


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