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Jonathan's Answers to Tough Questions


I use your site a bunch (thanks!) I'm a single mom with two teenagers. I’ve tried to raise them both in church and making decisions based on God’s word, but it’s very hard with the influences surrounding them. Lately, they want to download music that they call "clean," but it’s not. How do I know what’s clean and what’s not




This is a great question, and one that I hear over and over again during my parenting seminars. “Mom, can I download Cee Lo Green’s new song? It’s called Forget You. It’s clean, I promise.”


What a relative term. The “clean” of 40 years ago is definitely different than the “clean” from today. In the 60’s, a “clean” song might say It’s In His Kiss, while a song from today might declare I Kissed a Girl. Savvy parents will know, those songs aren’t talking about the same thing; one is fairly innocuous, while the other pushes the envelope in both lyric and video image.

But which is which?

I faced a similar question in my own home just last year. I wrote about it in this Youth Culture Window article. Basically, my oldest daughter wanted to download a song she thought was “clean.” After all, it had no swear words in it, and it didn’t refer to women as b*tches or hoes. Good start. But is that enough?

So, Alyssa and I did what we always do when we don’t know if a song meets our standards: we research it. This is simple to do on Google. Just type in the artist’s name and the title of the song and scores of webpages will offer you a listing of the song’s lyrics. Click on any of them to read through the song’s message for yourself. But that’s only half the research!

Since most tunes these days come with a music video, I usually open up YouTube or Vevo and search for the artist’s song by title. (Again, just typing in the name of the artist and song will usually get you what you need.)

Finally, after collecting all the information we can, we talk. Talk. Not lecture. Not condemn. Not judge.


In this instance, I took a risk and let Alyssa make the final decision. She loved the song! Who wouldn’t? It’s catchy as heck! But she had also been confronted with the less-than-holy messages in the song that didn’t gel well with her understanding of truth, love, and relationships.

In the end, she took a pass on the song. I was greatly pleased with her and her decision.

Julie, I recommend the same process for you.

Define what clean means for your family. Does it just mean the absence of obscenities, or does it encompass the absence of contaminating messages? In other words, if a song doesn’t have a single swear word in it (Rihanna’s S&M), but is nothing more than an advertisement for bondage sex, will that meet our standard of “clean”? I used Cee Lo Green’s song at the outset of my answer to you. His song is actually entitled F**k You, but also has a “clean” version that goes by Forget You. The same point is there, even if the verb heard is “forget” instead of “f**k.” (Besides, ask 100 kids who are familiar with the song, and most of them will know that the “forget” version was originally the “f**k” version.) Since you are the one who is responsible for your family, you should get to be the one who sets the standard.

Do your research. Like I said earlier, the Internet will be incredibly helpful here. You can review the lyrics and listen to the entire song yourself before paying 99 cents for the tune… and even more when those messages take root in kids’ minds and hearts. Don’t skip this crucial step. Not only will it help you make decisions on a song-by-song basis, it will give you a “big picture” understanding of the direction much of music is headed in.

Talk about standards and choices continually. You won’t win this war by winning one battle. There will always be another “clean” song wanted by our teenagers that’s not so clean. Get in the habit of setting standards instead of decrees. In short, help them understand what you want for them – and why – and then give them the tools to achieve that end. This might include showing them relevant Bible passages (like Philippians 4:8), or teaching them discernment skills. Hey, a great way to develop solid decision-making skills for life is to start by making solid decisions concerning music!

Julie, like you, I wish it wasn’t so hard to determine if a song is really “clean” like the label says it is. Spotting “dirty music” isn’t nearly as simple as spotting dirty shoes. Fortunately, we have tools at our disposal that will help us find the dirt on “clean” songs so that dirt doesn’t get tracked into our kids’ lives.


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