Right now of the top 50 songs on iTunes, 15 have a little red box with an "E" next to it. That "E" tells listeners the song is explicit. If a song has strong language, or depictions of violence, sex or substance abuse, record labels will — most often — let you know about.
In 1985, a U.S. Senator's wife, Tipper Gore, bought her daughter a Prince album. Shocked by the lyrics, she went on to help form the Parents Music Resource Center with the goal of giving parents more information about the music their kids had blaring in their Walkmans.
After much prodding from the group, the Recording Industry Association of America agreed to put warning labels on songs with lyrics or themes that parents may deem inappropriate. In 1990, the black-and-white rectangle we all know as the Parental Advisory Label debuted. The only change since then is that "Explicit Lyrics" was changed to "Explicit Content" in 1996.
Moms and dads everywhere debate whether it is okay to allow kids to listen to music with explicit content. Of course, each parent will need to decide what is appropriate for their own children, but a recent study out of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston may sway opinion a bit.
It found middle schoolers who listen to rap music for three or more hours each day, are more likely to have sex by ninth grade. The researchers found that music with suggestive lyrics seems to lead teens to believe everyone is having sex, making it more acceptable to them. The music may influence teenagers to be more likely to follow what they believe the crowd is doing.
If parents decide they do not want explicit content in their kids' playlists and in their music streaming services, there are ways to make hearing it more difficult. As with all parental controls, teenagers can almost always find a way around the restrictions.
If teens have their mind set on listening to explicit lyrics, there is not much stopping them from using a friend's phone, or jumping on YouTube. But parents should know certain music streaming services make it easier than others to attempt to block objectionable content.
Amazon Music — Amazon has a variety of options for music streaming, but none of them has a filter for explicit content. Prime Music has two-million songs on-demand included with a Prime membership.
Apple Music — Filtering explicit content on iOS is all part of the "restrictions" option in Settings under the General tab. Parents can set a four digit code for restrictions on many aspects of the operating system that no one else will be able to change. Pay attention to that code, though. There is absolutely no way to retrieve it if you forget it. Parents can turn off explicit content, and any song that contains it simply won't play. It will show up, but kids won't be able to click on it to listen or buy. If Apple Music offers a clean version of a song, it'll play that in place of the explicit version. Another tip: when kids look up an album on iTunes, they might find that every song is labeled explicit. Scroll down and at the bottom, there is an option to "show clean version." Click that, and all the clean versions pop up instead.
Google Play Music — While parents can block explicit songs, it only works for the radio stations. There is no filter for the 35 million songs available for listening on-demand. Go to Settings and toggle the "block explicit songs in radio."
Pandora — Parents can disable explicit content in the app, but just know it's super easy for kids to turn it back on. Go to Settings/Account and turn off "allow explicit content." Pandora warns that even though the filter gets rid of bad language, the songs could still have adult themes.
Spotify — While this service boasts 30 million songs in its catalog, it has no explicit lyrics filter, so kids would have to search out the clean versions.
For me, if explicit content is a worry, Apple Music is the hands-down winner. It's the only option that allows parents to block explicit content, with no way for kids to easily work around it within the music service.
Yes, I realize kids will have to decide on their own at some point whether they should listen to explicit content. But for now — especially while I'm paying for the mobile service plans and wi-fi — I will keep the music with foul language, and sexual and violent themes, out of easy reach.