In the car the other day, my teenage son announces, “I’m in charge of the music.” At first, I sigh because if I have to hear “It’s Raining Tacos” one more time, I might drive the car off the road.
So, imagine my delight when he switches the radio to the classic rock station.
“When did you start listening to this music?” I ask.
“It’s what my friends and I like,” he replies.
Music to my ears, pun intended. Even so, I’m a little surprised.
My mother reminds me that parenting teenagers has always been challenging. But I think today it’s even more difficult to connect with our kids and find common ground, especially when today’s adolescents are spending more time in virtual spaces than in the real world.
“How can I talk to you when you have a VR set strapped to your head, or your face is glued to a video game screen?” I ask my son, trying to get his attention.
Sometimes, these conversations don’t even happen in person. One afternoon while I’m sitting at my computer working, my phone lights up with text alerts from my son. At first, I think it’s a real emergency. But then I read what my son wrote.
“Mom, quick, you have to order the new strap for my VR set because they only have one left in stock.”
I don’t reply. Two seconds later, another text comes through.
“Hello, Mom! Are you there?”
Two seconds after that, another text.
“Why are you ignoring me? This is really important!”
Now it’s my turn to roll my eyes.
Connecting with Someone Through Music
While I’ll never rank high in a competition for my son’s attention against video games and technology, I do have an inroad when it comes to music. It’s been a big part of my life ever since my father built his own hi-fi stereo and filled our house with music by artists like Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond, and Barbara Streisand. Like with my son and me, my father and I were generations apart on most things—but music brought us together, even if our musical tastes weren’t exactly the same.
It shouldn’t surprise me that my son likes classic rock. When he was an infant, I filled his room with classic-rock lullabies by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, and more. Later, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” by the Rolling Stones became one of his favorite tunes. (It’s still my go-to statement when he’s asking for more video games.) At a fourth-grade sleepover, he asked his friend’s dad to play Supertramp. And in grade school he made his classmates listen to “Hotel California” by the Eagles so many times, that a mom called me to ask him to please stop or pick a new song.
Nowadays, the invention of Spotify and satellite radio makes it easy to share great music with my son through 70s and 80s playlists and radio stations like Classic Vinyl and Classic Rewind. Of course, explaining to him how the needle on the record player read the music on the vinyl, or how you had to rewind and fast-forward the cassette tape—or even explaining what a cassette tape deck looked like (forget trying to explain 8-tracks)—makes me feel ancient. But I love our newfound connection through these relics of a technology era gone by.
Sometimes my son asks me about artists and bands and I get to recount my days in the music industry. I tell him about my radio and record promotion career after college and how I programmed rock and roll, contemporary, and high-energy dance music for several radio stations. I drop the names of the rock stars I met, including Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, George Michael, Madonna, Donny Osmond, and Whitney Houston. I recall a private Elton John concert where he played his hit songs for several hours as about 15 of us sat around the piano and listened. (That night is still a highlight of my life.) I recount the live shows I attended: The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Michael Jackson, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Genesis, Van Halen, Bruce Springsteen, Queen, U2, and many more. And I tell him what it was like to be a music promoter, working with the pop trio Wilson Phillips and the one-hit wonder, rapper Vanilla Ice, whom I accompanied across the U.S. on a three-month concert tour.
One day, I overhear my son sharing some of my music industry stories with a group of his friends.
“My mom met tons of rock stars like Elton John and Billy Joel when she worked for a radio station. She also toured with Vanilla Ice when he was in concert and lived on a tour bus with him for three months.”
I’m not sure his friends are impressed by my past experiences, but that makes no difference to me. I’m not a mom who will ever understand how to play Minecraft, and wearing the VR headset gives me a migraine—but in this moment, my son makes me feel like I’m the “cool” mom and I know he appreciates me, because through music we are connected.
As parents of teenagers, we’re nearing the end of our days of influence. We can only hope that our love, guidance, advice, and badgering are positive contributions to their lives. Soon, they’ll be off to college and the working world and one day they’ll have a family of their own. If we are lucky, they’ll take a little piece of us with them—like our love of classic rock—and try to share it with their own teenage children. And we, being older and wiser, can remind them that parenting teenagers has always been challenging, especially when their children roll their eyes, and so when they find a moment of connection, they should lean into it and fill it with love.