Q. Our 13-year-old son has had an iPod for the last three years. We’ve always made use of the parental restrictions to make sure that he could only access “clean” music, movies and websites. When I recently checked the device, however, I discovered that he’s been listening to the most awful and explicit rap music, some of which I would describe as pornographic. Apparently, he’s been able to hide this from us for about a year. We have taken away his iPod forever, grounded him until further notice, suspended his video game privileges and banned violent video games forever. He had us completely fooled! He’s an honor student, polite, calm and completely obedient. He’s never given us any big problems until now. Are we being too harsh here?
A. I agree that this is a serious betrayal of trust, but the important issue is whether your son is remorseful. If he feels bad about what he’s done, good. If, on the other hand, he’s defending himself or attempting to minimize the problem, then you have another problem on top of the betrayal.
Since you didn’t mention reactions of that sort, I’m going to give your son the benefit of doubt and posit that this is an example of an otherwise good kid doing what otherwise good teen boys sometimes do – to wit, they conduct little experiments with being bad. Most of the experiments in question – and again, I’m talking about otherwise good kids – do not indicate that the child in question is about to go off the proverbial deep end. In other words, a good kid can do something really bad and still be a good kid who grows up to be a good person.
A significant amount of concern would be warranted if your son were not remorseful, were trying to rationalize and otherwise talk his way out of this, were being more generally deceitful, and especially if he were beginning to engage in other problem behaviors with other problem kids. But in the absence of any of that, this is probably nothing more than a “glitch.”
My highly speculative (but experienced) explanation: The “cool” kids probably listen to the disgusting garbage in question, and your son probably just wanted to experience some of what it’s like to be cool. (By the way, please make no mistake about it: I do not think listening to vulgar music is cool in the slightest. Putting junk media into one’s head is as unhealthy as putting junk food into one’s body … much, much more unhealthy, in fact.) As I said, if he’s not trying to become popular with the supposedly “cool” kids by engaging in other rebellious behavior, then this is nothing to be worried about.
For what it’s worth, I approve of the consequences you levied. I don’t think they’re too harsh. He did a wrong thing, you did several right things, and now it’s time for everyone to move on.
One final word: You’ve learned, the hard way, that most of today’s kids can figure out how to get around parental controls. And if they can’t, they know someone who can. Today’s parents need much sharper eyes than their parents needed, for sure.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions at parentguru.com.