Parental guidance not required

In this digital age, is it a lost cause to try and influence your kids' tastes?

A friend of mine recently said her son walked past her desk, saw a copy of Radiohead's seminal Kid A album sitting there, and exclaimed: "Kid Ah!"

While she joked that it was a #parentingfail that he pronounced the title wrongly, I complimented her on her efforts to expand his musical knowledge by leaving such CDs around for her 11-year-old to find.

"You know, leaving CDs around is going to be an archaic thing after our generation, right?" mused my 40something friend.

That set me thinking.

Given the age of digital downloads and online streaming, is it increasingly hopeless when it comes to shaping your child's cultural and aesthetic tastes?


Already, the laws of parenting teenagers dictate that they're going to find everything you find cool, gross and fuddy-duddy. Hard-selling them your Top 100 of 1990s and 2000s music is probably going to get eye-rolls (at best). Now, it struck me, soft-selling by strewing the house full of vintage vinyl, cassettes or CDs for these kids to discover on their own is soon going the way of the dodo.

I think about the scene in Almost Famous, American director Cameron Crowe's 2000 coming-of-age film, in which a teenager inherits his sister's rock records when she flies the coop, forming the backbone of his rock 'n' roll education and Rolling Stone magazine career.

In today's world, he would probably stumble upon her iPhone or Spotify account - which is decidedly less romantic and exciting. Or said sister, if she could be bothered, would throw together a Soundcloud or YouTube playlist, which, while useful, takes away some of the autonomy of discovery.

What about my own children? Given that much of my music exists on old hard disk drives and dead iPods, will they ever know about my chequered musical history - from my Depeche Mode obsession to the riot-grrrl empowerment of my 1990s, with Hole and Tori Amos, to Faye Wong at the peak of her prowess in the early 2000s?

Already, the laws of parenting teenagers dictate that they're going to find everything you find cool gross and fuddy-duddy. Hard-selling them your Top 1000 of 1990s and 2000s music is probably going to be met with eye-rolls (at best). Now, it struck me, soft-selling by strewing the house full of vintage vinyl, cassettes or CDs for these kids to discover on their own is also well on its way of going the dodo.

And, while we do still have shelves full of books and DVDs, I now download books into my Kindle, while my husband reads webzines.

How does one leave an e-book around to entice a bored offspring? My dusty copies of To Kill A Mockingbird and Midnight's Children may be in the study, for his perusal, but what about the works by authors I fell in love with more recently, like Sherman Alexie's and Lucia Berlin's short stories, borrowed from the National Library's e-book collection, and books by Ken Liu and Viet Thanh Nguyen, purchased on my Kindle because the paper copies were too thick to carry around?

These days, my two sons - one is 10 years old, and the other is seven - get their musical cues from their peers and YouTube, more than they seem to pick up on my favourites.

I'd never heard a One Direction song, until the kids started spontaneously breaking into complete ditties like Drag Me Down. And, in my material girl days, M is for Madonna but, for my boys these days, M is for Michael Jackson because they saw a parody of the late singer on a popular comedy channel and became enamoured with all things King of Pop.

It's a First World problem, no doubt. Moan that my kids don't like the music I introduce them to. Tough. When I mentioned this trend to a lawyer friend, she said her family - she and her IT whiz husband have a home media hub, programmed with individual playlists for him, herself, their 11-year-old daughter and their 2½-year-old son.

"It's the rise of individualism, isn't it?" she said. "Do you think that's why millennials are like that? So sure of their own opinions and what they want?"

I said I didn't know if it was too much of a stretch. But, who knows?

As a kid, I had to listen to a rotation of Cliff Richard, The Quests and The Beatles that my father played on the JVC hi-fi set in our living room. In my mother's car, we had to listen to Delphine Tsai, Fei Xiang and Anna Lin on every trip to school or the supermarket. At my grandmother's home, my cousins and I were forced to absorb Ridley Scott's science-fiction original Alien, which played ad nauseam on VHS tape as my six uncles took turns to watch it, between mahjong sessions.

This sub-conscious osmosis, I wager, formed the aural and video backdrop to my childhood, and did more to shape my pop-cultural awareness than if they had, say, sat me down and forced me to listen to Bach. Now that almost everyone has a digital device and earbuds, and can choose to listen to or watch whatever they want, instead of fighting over the remote control, this accidental fabric of other people's influences is gradually fading.

I'm not saying it's a good or bad thing; our children now possess skills to Google or Shazam something if they like it. Nobody is held captive to irritating music or shows not of one's choosing. And, provided each family member takes the time to share new discoveries with other members, there might be a lot more diverse preferences in one household.

That said, funnily enough, aesthetic tastes may sometimes have more to do with nature than genes than we realise.

One day, upon overhearing my son singing a lyric-version of Backstreet Boys' seminal (to me) pop hit, I Want It That Way, in the back seat, I was so startled, I almost jammed on my brakes. "How did you know that song?" I asked.

"I was playing a game and it was on the sound track," replied my nonchalant pre-teen.

I loved the song; could do a mean, action-included karaoke rendition of it.

Perhaps, for all my anxiety about being an - as the fashionable social media term goes - influencer as a parent, I should just take heart in the fact that my son, being my son, will appreciate the same things that I do, by his methods, and on his own terms.

•Clara Chow is an author, and co-editor of art and literary journal

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2016, with the headline 'Parental guidance not required'. Print Edition | Subscribe