You could say I listen to a lot of metal, and you’d be right. You could also say metal is indisputably the most awful sound on the planet Earth, and how dare I subject my precious daughter to that auditory filth, to which I say: have you heard the noises a baby can make at 1 AM? They’re downright Luciferian.
The controversy over what parents should let kids see and hear is as old as time itself, like bickering over whether Metallica or Megadeth is the better band. (It’s Megadeth, duh.) Although I’ve taken care these past nineteen months to limit Gorgonna’s exposure to my abhorrent taste in music, I’ve often wondered… is metal actually bad for kids?
As mostly metal parents, we’re in a unique spot from most of our peers. We don’t happen to flip on a metal song on the radio — metal is the type of music we actively seek out. When the time comes to “shake our sillies out” and “do the hokey pokey,” we’d rather “hammer smashed face.” But the more extreme the metal — the more our goats get got — the more we should to ask ourselves if all that riffing and growling is really in our kids’ best interests.
I’ve begun seeing parenting as a compromise between the person you want to be and the person you want to be for your kids.
I know, I know — metal is life, and anyone who says otherwise is an untr00 poseur. But I’ve begun seeing parenting as a compromise between the person you want to be and the person you want to be for your kids. And the person I want to be for Gorgonna knows his favorite music probably sounds like trashcan murder monsters.
So I did what any diligent parent would do: I used the Google. And wouldn’t you know it — I dredged up quite a few articles exploring this very subject. Pediatric psychological studies, baby community forums — I scrutinized these like a music critic on a sophomore album. And like album reviews, I wanted to read up on many different opinions before I decided whether I bought their belief or not.
I’d like to share with you my findings. But here’s your disclaimer, your parental advisory sticker: I’m not a child psychology authority. (Obviously). I did a minuscule amount of research that would any true scholar cringe, and I mostly did just enough to satisfy my own curiosity. But I am a parent who loves his daughter dearly and wants to raise her right. Assuming you are/do too, you should be able to figure out how much metal you’re willing to impose upon your kid.
Metal Music is Bad!
Surprise, surprise — lots of Official Smart People™ think metal is no good for kids. Clearly, I want metal to be a good influence, but I tried my best to absorb the information here with the appropriate amount of concern.
A 2009 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics linked heavy metal listening in adolescents to all sorts of stuff like suicide, depression, and risky behavior. Young headbangers were also found to have lower grades and more problems with school authority. Granted, this data was gathered from many other studies for kids ranging from 8 to 16 — the report didn’t have anything to say about toddlers. And I should mention these show correlations, not cause and effect scenarios. Still, those are serious claims that no parent, mostly metal or otherwise, should easily ignore.
If anything, the last thing I want as a result of Gorgonna jamming on some of my more brutal tunes is to repeat their lyrics verbatim before a crowded family dinner. Food for thought.
Dogpiling on top of that, an article from PBS says “music with inappropriate lyrical content should be avoided.”
Okay, so no yucky lyrics in your metal. Got it. Now, you’re probably tempted into thinking bands with unintelligible cookie monster grunts get a free pass. Sorry to disappoint, but these guys did their homework.
Another article, this one from popular all-things-baby website BabyCenter, a developmental psychologist straight-up said, yes, listening to negative lyrics or “angry” music was harmful for kids aged 5 to 8. However, he believes that had less to do with the lyrics and more to do with the music itself. He referenced a study where a group of kids who listened to heavy metal with Christian lyrics were just as angry as the group who listened to heavy metal with violent lyrics.
The psychologist also states children as old as 8 months could “discern ‘angry’ musical tones,” which I’m inclined to believe. And although I doubt the author would know blackened sludge from brutal death, I’ll concede that most metal doesn’t sound… nice.
PBS suggested avoiding music with “strident tone quality” — harsh or dissonant, from what I gathered. They use thrash metal as an example of a type of music that doesn’t change tones often enough to be interesting for kids. (Um, does PBS know “Good Mourning/Black Friday” exists? Wait, it gets pretty thrashy by the end, doesn’t it? Damn, maybe they’re onto something.)
My take on the developmental psychologist. I dug up his study, which was unsourced in his article on BabyCenter, and found the data was from 1991. The study wasn’t talking about children but college undergraduates. I still mostly accept his findings, but that’s just a bit of fact-checking for you. Do what thou wilt with that.
But the dissonance thing makes sense to me. Metal and dissonance go together like spikes on black leather (seriously, just listen to the latest from Ulcerate and tell me you don’t find that kind of hot noise compelling). But dissonance makes metal sound so delightfully spooky because the sounds themselves may remind our lizard brains of some primal fear. So a song that lays on the dissonance thick might be triggering a basic fight-or-flight response in us. Since I don’t want Gorgonna to do either of those things when we listen to my latest slamz, maybe I’d best not play that kind of music for her. (Sorry, Ulcerate.)
Metal Music is Okay!
Metal fans love their metal. Is it any wonder that metal fans who are also parents do too? You know where I stand on the matter, but I found plenty of other like-minded mommas and poppas defending metal’s merits.
A forum thread on BabyCenter had hesher parents sharing war stories of how they played metal for their younglings, revealing that hey, the kids turned out all right. There was even a recurring argument of whether Avenged Sevenfold is considered “heavy metal” or not. You can’t fake that kind of authenticity.
The most encouraging came from Wired’s Mr. Know It All, who states there is “exactly zero evidence that one kind of music helps cognitive development more than any other.” Now, I’m not sure what kind of background he has (he is, after all, an animated cartoon man), so I don’t quite know what to do with the information. I’ll admit I’m more surprised at his recommendation of hiding album art over the music itself, but whatever — I’ll mark it as a victory. Bring on the Avenged Sevenfold! (Hey, Hail to the King was not that bad.)
Then again, none of the articles I found outright said metal was good for kids. The closest we get is with PBS, where a childhood music specialist stated, “there is no bad type of music.” Sounds like a green light, doesn’t it? Well, the specialist goes on to say, “it’s harder to find appropriate music in some styles than others.” Yeah… I get the sense PBS would judge you for playing anything harder than Kenny G, but at least they’re willing to let you dream, eh?
Hey, this is supposed to be the good section! What gives? If you’re feeling a little bummed out, I feel you. But! PBS also says, “kids’ CDs that are geared toward children are not necessarily very healthy music for children to be listening to… they are often poorly produced, sung by children singing as if they are adults, and in major keys only.” They recommend a mix of music genres to give kiddies variety, a playlist made up of their songs and your songs.
See? Kids could use a little minor key mayhem after all. Suck it, Kidz Bop.
If you must have one takeaway from all this, I suggest this: do what feel right to you.
Gorgonna is older now, and she’s becoming more and more her own person. Listening to music can, and probably should, be a collaborative effort, as the PBS article suggested. Besides, as much as the Literature major in me desperately wants to find empirical evidence on all matters related to parenting, I gotta respect the input from my fellow parents. They’re the ones duking it out in the trenches just like me. People say parenting is hard, but we’re living it, man. If their kids go to sleep more often to “Enter Sandman” than “Rock-a-Bye Baby,” who am I to judge?
I have no shortage of father-daughter activities I can while away the hours with, but pulverizing my child’s eardrums with the latest from Phantom Winter may not be the healthiest. Because that’s really what this blog is all about — raising a healthy, happy kid. If that means yet another compromise, so be it.
Look, all I know is I was listening to “Blackened” by Metallica in the car last week, and every time I’d restart the song over from the beginning, Gorgonna would peep “more” from her car seat. If that isn’t an endorsement at some level that metal might have a chance in our family playlist, I don’t know what is.
Now if only I could replicate the same reaction for “Holy Wars”…