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Ask the Rock Doc
The following letter may be altered in terms of content, names, locations and nature of correspondance in order to protect the confidentiality of the musician in distress.
Dear Rock Doc:
My wife, Joan, and I have been happily married for nearly 20 years and we have three sons, ages 16, 13 and 10. Our youngest boys bring us nothing but joy. Our oldest, Jared, used to be wonderful, but ever since about the age of 15, he has given his mother and I nothing but pain and heartache. His attitude changed when he started to listen to wild, satanic music. It was the strangest music I had ever heard. At first I didn't really know what to call it. It didn't sound like the rock 'n roll we used to listen to back in the day.
Recently, I came across your Phantom Tollbooth pieces in which you addressed the issue of "emo" and "screamo" music. I wasn't aware that such music was out there, but now that you have talked about it, the music seems to match the type of music my adolescent son is into. To be perfectly honest, as a Christian parent who has worked hard to instill the principles of scripture and Christian values in my kids, I am quite alarmed that my son has been exposed to this type of undisciplined expression. In fact, I've been listening from outside his bedroom door and I'm finding that even though I generally can't make out the lyrics, many of them seem to mention Satan by name. I believe my son's choice of music is harming him. I can see it in his attitude towards God, towards his mother and myself, and towards anyone who happens to be in a position of authority. We used to be a family that prayed together, had devotions together, went to church together. We are a very musical family. I am in a gospel quartet, my wife teaches piano lessons, and all of my sons play at least one instrument, and/or sing. Jared, my 16-year-old is no exception. But he doesn't want to jam with the family anymore. In fact, he doesn't even seem to act like his mother and I exist at all. He has totally shut down, except when he's with his friends who do nothing but party, smoke and cuss. I wonder if my example, and all of my words of guidance mean a thing to him at all. I am invisible to him and its as if he has completely emptied his brain of all of my input.
I fear that we have lost Jared altogether. My wife shares my fears. She can't even bring herself to talk about our son. That's how fearful she is. I am an avid reader of Phantom Tollbooth articles and regularly visit your advice column. I thought maybe you could help.
PS: My son said he saw you on the MTV Video Music Awards a couple of years ago in a music video by a band called Cake, and that he learned you had written a song about the experience in a fan site. He said it was called Short Part/Long Cake Music Video. Can you please send a link to that song? I know that Cake does not represent the type of Christian music I would normally want my son to listen to, but any interest he has in an intelligent group of musicians who do not use the F word in every line of their music or praise the name of Satan is a step up for my son. Besides, hopefully by following your music, and reading your Phantom Tollbooth articles, he will eventually begin to see the dangers of "emo" and "screamo" music and will gradually be drawn towards music that is positive and uplifting.
The Invisible Father
Dear Seemingly Invisible Father:
I hesitate to call you by the term you call yourself because I believe you may not be as invisible in your son Jared's mind as you think you are. The Bible says "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." This is a promise, plain and simple--one that we can depend on. It sounds like you have planted some valuable seeds in your son's mind. Now that he seems to be sowing his own wild oats, you believe that your seed has blown away with the wind. In fact, it has not. Right now, he is nurturing the wrong seeds, despite the fact that it is normal for adolescents to distance themselves from their parents. While he seems to be participating in what is known as the normal process of individuation, the way your son is going about expressing himself as an individual appears to be dysfunctional, and seems to be producing a great deal of pain in you, and, apparently in your wife. Though the process is likely unconscious, your son is making choices that are based on the opposite of what you expect of him. He wants to oppose everything you believe in and every expectation you have of him.
Look for the normal part of what your son is going through and encourage it. Sit down with him and say something like this, "I've noticed that you're really growing up to be quite an individual, with a mind of your own. That's part of becoming an adult so I don't want you to stop thinking for yourself. The problem is, your mother and I love you so much and don't want you to drift away too far into your own little world, especially if it means doing things that are harmful to you and hurtful to us. Is there any part of your life that we could still be a part of?" See what he says. As for the music issue, I would suggest the honest approach. Bring it up like this: "I can't believe that music has changed so much since your mother and I were your age. To be honest, I've been listening to some of it, and it really scares me, especially when I hear stuff about Satan. I want God to occupy your mind, God, and all the things that are good and positive. It scares me when I see you drawn to such dark music. It sounds so depressing and destructive. What are you getting out of this music? Help us understand your musical choices." You've mentioned Cake as a realistic step in the right direction. I would encourage you to find more of his music that is closer to what you'd like him to fill his mind with. To begin to bring him on board, I'm offering him a free download of the song he requested, the one I wrote as a self-mocking mini-documentary of my involvement in the Cake music video.
Jared, this one's for you!
Short Part/Long Cake Music
Video by Dr. BLT (c) 2002, 2005
You too are going through a normal developmental stage. It involves the developmental task most parents dread: allowing room for your children to gradually become adults. Joining a support group for parents of teens may help you successfully pass through this stage with your self-esteem and your sanity.
If you haven't guessed by now, I consider myself a psychoPRAYERapist, meaning that therapy, and sound psychological advice is meaningless for me, without the power of prayer. Therefore, I will pray for you, your son, Jared, your wife and your entire family. Your part, in addition to praying and applying the advice I gave you (if it fits), is to stand on that promise I mentioned: "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Believe it. Trust in it, even though you see no evidence at this time of such a promise being fulfilled. Finally, if you'd like to participate in family therapy, please e-mail a reply indicating where you live, and I'll try to track one down for you. God bless! May a joyful noise return to your household!
***If you are a musician
in distress, be sure to e-mail Dr. BLT at email@example.com