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The Good Listener: How Do I Share Music With My Kids? Should I?

How do you share music with your kids without going overboard? (iStockphoto.com)

We get a lot of mail at NPR Music, and alongside the bales of fan letters for HMSTR is a slew of smart questions about how music fits into our lives — and, this week, tips for new parents who can't wait to share their favorite songs with their kids.

Nathan writes via email: "I became a dad a few weeks ago, and one of the things I'm most excited about is sharing music with my son. I can't wait to play 'Weird Al' Yankovic and The Beatles and The Ramones and Phish for him on our record player, but I'm also a little anxious about imposing my own tastes on the young man, who's bound to have opinions of his own. So how do I walk that fine line between exposing my son to music he might love and imposing my own tastes and sensibilities on someone who might not share them?"

As of right now, your son is only a few weeks old, so everything in his life is imposed on him. His music, his clothing, the pediatric care he receives, the company he keeps, the food he eats — everything. You needn't feel guilty about the imposition, because no one involved has a choice in the matter anyway. When he's got opinions about anything in his life, he'll let you know via a subtle system of blood-curdling shrieks.

From this point on and for years to come, moment by moment, your grip on his tastes will slip away. He'll hear a Kidz Bop record at daycare that delights him; he'll see a child-friendly movie at a birthday party, come home with an earworm and refuse to let it go. And you'll cede control, little by little, more and more, for the duration of his childhood. That's what parents do — that's the job, in many ways — whether they want to or not.

You said it yourself: He's bound to have opinions of his own. That part needn't worry you, because it'll happen regardless.

What you can control — especially early in his life — is how he encounters the music you love, and how you and he contextualize it in memories of his childhood. Passing along cultural treasures needn't be a formal process of sitting your son down for a lesson on the masters; it's best and most effectively done through osmosis, by making great music the wallpaper in a loving home. Incorporate it quietly, subtly, into everyday moments in which your son receives comfort: bedtime, downtime, feeding time, strolls around the block.

Then, along the way, take care to respect, nurture and playfully indulge the tastes he expresses, whether you share them in every instance or not. You'll most likely get lucky along the way — The Beatles and Weird Al are embraced by kids pretty frequently, at least in my experience — while other moments will likely make you cringe, or even worry. Ideally, any intergenerational cultural exchange will provide a chance for both sides to come away with newfound appreciation, or at least acceptance.

Parenting will hand you a million tiny victories; cherish them. Last night, I took my 10-year-old daughter trick-or-treating, and because she'd fallen in love with the song "Crazy Train" by playing it on Guitar Hero, she decided to go door-to-door dressed as Ozzy Osbourne. Back at the house, my 13-year-old son passed out candy dressed as Andrew W.K., whose music he'd come to appreciate from the many times I'd crank I Get Wet in the car and pump my fist along exuberantly.

By next year, who knows? I might hate the music my kids love, and that's fine. It'll become the wallpaper of our lives, too, and I'll find a way into it because it's theirs. And I'll consider myself lucky, because I am.

Got a music-related question you want answered? Leave it in the comments, drop us an email at allsongs@npr.org or tweet @allsongs.

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