Kids today are already spending hours with their headsets "hearing" music -- but are they actually "listening" to anything?
If they are, it is most likely messages more than music. Yet there is so much they can experience. Music is a light that can open our hearts and empower our minds in astounding ways. But in today's world of texting and cover-song downloads, our children will miss this unless we bring it to them directly. So, parents, it's time to make it happen -- let's get going.
When my children were very young, I introduced music to them, just as my father had done with me. Every night at bedtime, a radio with soft, soothing classical music was left on. As time passed for my kids, this music was anticipated and actually needed for them to fall asleep.
As they got older, their desire for listening to music grew as they did. Now with two 16-year-olds (twins), and my youngest, who is 12, the kids have their favorite hip hop artists, but they also sing along to the standards (and with practice are developing an ear specifically to identify the Chairman of the Board apart from "everybody else"). They also know classics from the '50s, '60s and '70s (Elvis and The Beatles), the '80s and '90s (Genesis and The Cure) -- while beat-bopping in the back seat to the symphony classics.
All of this makes my three children lovely houseguests, as they have a commonality with older relatives and adults they meet, everyone from coaches to teachers to parents of friends. And music has served as a major source of strength and courage when they were faced with tragedy in their lives. Because the spirituality of sound can stir emotions, tantalize senses, and fill our souls, it became comfort and security for them when, at 10 years old, their best friend was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. A few short months after his diagnosis, we lost him to this horrific disease.
As a mother, it was devastating for me to swallow the loss of this brave little boy and the pain of his family. It was also tremendously difficult to watch my own children grieve as they looked for answers and hope in the absence of their friend.
In the days following this harrowing loss, my children turned to music. It was a temporary bandage to a gaping wound, which many days left them sad and undetermined to move on. There was little hope, or so they felt -- but the influence of music replaced some of the missing pieces.
They would never forget their courageous friend, but music helped them remember who he was. He would never truly be absent if they kept his spirit alive in their hearts.
As the years have passed, we have brought music into our lives even more and it has helped us all relate on a deeper level. Raising teenagers requires tough conversations, but if they take place after you have all listened to "Nessun Dorma" or an Itzhak Perlman violin solo (try this sometime!) -- the mood in the room changes, hearts open and everyone is a little more able to face their truth.
This Christmas and Hanukkah, rekindle the art of togetherness. Music can harness, it can heal, it can harbor the magic of true meaning within each of us. If you're afraid your children will get bored in a concert hall, start with music that will be familiar but still has the potential to open their world.
Take them to a holiday concert that is playing favorites with all strings, all brass or a magnificent full orchestra.
If you are concerned with restlessness, then consider a soprano singing traditional opera with a mix of contemporary songs, a jazz afternoon or evening, or splurge on tickets to a popular touring artist. And if no professional musicians are nearby, then find out about the performances at your local college. If you expect to be snowbound, buy a few DVDs and sit as a family and watch and listen -- it will be worth it!
In the kids' stockings this year, keep it going with the music genres that seemed to jar their senses and interest them the most. Our youth live in a world filled with constant noise, unlike many of us who grew up before social media, cell phones, and selfies. Give the kids a break from it -- and treat them to beautiful sounds of the season and beyond.
Valerie King is a Dallas-based working mother of 16-year-old twins and a 13-year-old. She is the author of three books.