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Busting on Barney


Kids love Barney. But how many parents do? (Universal Studios)

My 2-year-old daughter learned to sing this past Inauguration Day, and when it comes to music, she's always had very clear preferences. As an infant, she'd cry whenever I'd play Pavement. Recently, in the car, when Run-DMC came on the mix, she told me, "Too loud." Her favorite song remains "Baa-Baa Black Sheep," and she loves to stand on a stair step (her stage) to perform a medley of preschooler hits.

But one day she segued into some lyrics that I hoped I'd never hear in my house -- "I love you/ you love me/ we're a happy fam-i-ly...." -- and it freaked me out.

Yes, the purple dinosaur's song has a fine sentiment, one I'd relish hearing her say from the heart. No, I haven't watched much Barney. But I have musical preferences too, and as long as I can, I want to keep my daughter's cultural knowledge focused on things I approve.

It's inevitably a losing battle, I know, because all too soon she'll be listening to noise I can't stand. But if she's truly making her own choices, independently, I'll endorse that. What I'm hoping is that I'll have enough time as a parent to expose her to the arts when she's still relatively free from commercial influences. Because then I can tell myself that I've given her a base, a way to think about how to appreciate music.

Am I nuts? Can this be done, or is the power of calculated, market-researched dreck like Barney too strong? I know from my own friends and colleagues that their parents' music selections really did affect the bands they listened to, even into their college years. I'd love to hear from some parents who've found a way to engage their kids with music without turning them into children in a bubble.

Maybe you've found a way to talk about commercialism with your kids so they get it the way Adam Gopnik's son does in the "Barney in Paris" essay in "Paris to the Moon." His son finally explains, "I don't like Barney. I like to watch Barney."

-- Anne Kenderdine


By Anne |  August 21, 2009; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Child Development , Entertainment , Guest Blogs , Preschoolers
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Comments


I remember as a kid my mom only listened to oldies stations. Although I watched Sesame Street, it was the oldies that stuck with my sis and I, and that we could sing along to. I wasn't even really aware of other types of music until I was maybe 7 and my aunt introduced me to Madonna. Then, of course, it was all over. ;-)

Posted by: falltillfly | August 21, 2009 7:43 AM | Report abuse

"What I'm hoping is that I'll have enough time as a parent to expose her to the arts when she's still relatively free from commercial influences."

So what you're saying is that YOUR musical choices are based entirely in the arts and free from commercial influences? Somehow I doubt that's true - of any of us.

I get a big kick from listening to oldest DD's college radio show when she's on. Her musical tastes run from Baroque to Dropkick Murphys to Asian punk and Euro-funk, with some rap and Beatles thrown in. She's as familiar with Celtic Woman as she is with Keane. And this is girl who grew up with the original Barney tapes and shows in the early '90s. So don't sweat it if your DD likes the songs.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | August 21, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Don't worry, after toddlerhood kids go from loving Barney to completely trashing him in elementary school.

I hate you
You hate me
Let's go kill our friend Barney
With a knife and an ax he is on the floor
No more stupid dinosaur

I remember a little friend of my daughter's bawling her eyes out the first time she heard this song in Kindergarten, she still loved Barney. How quickly they turn!

Posted by: cheekymonkey | August 21, 2009 8:33 AM | Report abuse

I had the same ideas about listening to good music rather than kid's music, but the reality is there is a reason kids this age like kid's songs. My son is not quite 2, and can only say a few words here and there, but he already sings along with our CD of classic kid's songs. It's because they are so darn repetitive. Kids this age like knowing the words and it doesn't take long to learn them if the words repeat over and over. That's why you have Elmo singing, "This is a song, La-la-la-la, Elmo's song!" over and over.

I made the mistake of bringing the kid's CD in the car once, and now he won't let us listen to anything else when he's in the car. Before that he didn't complain about listening to my music because he apparently thought the kids CD only worked in the house.

Posted by: none9 | August 21, 2009 8:35 AM | Report abuse

Cheekymonkey is right. My kids learned the Barney death song after several years of loving Barney videotapes. I loved Mister Rogers as a kid and now I find reruns painful to watch. Young children enjoy simple repetitive sacharine stuff and it's more a developmental stage than a statement about their long-range musical/artistic tastes. Let her have Barney! I promise you: this too shall pass.

Posted by: annenh | August 21, 2009 8:38 AM | Report abuse

I decided early on that Aaron Spelling was by far a better judge of music than I was, so I only expose my children to artists who have appeared at the Peach Pit. We try to be VERY strict about this.

Somehow though, my 3 year old found an old VCR tape with the pilot of "The Heights" - and now will only listen to that soundtrack in the car. We allow it. It took a long time however before he finally said "I don't like Jamie Walters, I like to watch Jamie Walters."

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 8:56 AM | Report abuse

As others have said, they'll outgrow it. My son was really into the Wiggles when he was little and now he's 7 and he likes the Beatles, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Journey and other "grown-up" music.

Posted by: dennis5 | August 21, 2009 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Here's another Barney hate speak song that goes to the tune of "Joy to the World":

Joy to the World, Barney is dead!
We barbequed his head.
What happend to his body?
We flushed it down the potty,
And round and round it went!

Though I've had plenty of fun bashing Barney, I have to admit that I am a little fond of that silly purple dinosaur with green spots. His music is cheerful, and the lyrics are fun to spoof.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | August 21, 2009 9:06 AM | Report abuse

My kids have never gotten into Barney but usually prefer some form of kids music over my choices. Pretty much all recorded music is commercialized, especially those great oldies. It's OK.

Accepting that kids will not always listen to NPR or Bach or the Who, we have sought out "good" kids music. This mostly means music that is not built around a product brand (Disney anything) and does not make the grownups sick (Barney). Give them something good.

One we like is "Music Together" which is tied to music 'classes' that kids and parents do together. You don't really learn about music, you have instruments and play along with a music leader - the trick being that the parents play along too. The CDs are good with lots of original and traditional tunes. At home our kids are comfortable playing instruments and singing. (even though they aren't very 'good')

Posted by: KS100H | August 21, 2009 9:31 AM | Report abuse

"My son is not quite 2, and can only say a few words here and there, but he already sings along with our CD of classic kid's songs. It's because they are so darn repetitive. Kids this age like knowing the words and it doesn't take long to learn them if the words repeat over and over. "
--------------------------------------
Exactly. Same goes for drunk adults.

"Shout"
"Sweet Caroline"
"Mony, Mony"

...and dancing (Macarena, Cabbage Patch)

Posted by: pipe1 | August 21, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Wacky - I remember that one too, the bbq'd his head part is really strange but funny!

Posted by: cheekymonkey | August 21, 2009 9:40 AM | Report abuse

See, this is the problem: kids will like anything if it's repeated enough. The problem is that there are very, very few songs, even great songs, that any sane adult can listen to 20 or 30 times in a row, every day. We went through a three-month phase where one of my daughters would only listen to a certain James Taylor CD. I was indifferent to James Taylor before. Now I can't stand the stuff.

Posted by: rebeldad | August 21, 2009 9:52 AM | Report abuse

I've never really worried about whether DD is listening to the "right" music. We pretty much choose music that we also like -- Laurie Berkner, Imagination Movers and the Backyardigans have all been big hits around here, as have Sandra Boynton's CDs and an old "Alvin & The Chipmunks" greatest hits compilation.

Posted by: newsahm | August 21, 2009 10:02 AM | Report abuse

"It's because they are so darn repetitive."

"Kids this age like knowing the words and it doesn't take long to learn them if the words repeat over and over."

"Young children enjoy simple repetitive sacharine stuff"

"See, this is the problem: kids will like anything if it's repeated enough"

Say it again...SAY IT!!!!!

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 10:09 AM | Report abuse

"We pretty much choose music that we also like"

Ditto. I was happy as a clam when DS developed a giant crush on Laurie Berkner at about 13 months -- it gets grating by the 3rd or 4th time through, but I actually really like her songs myself.

My kids are Barney-deprived. DH vetoes the "big purple communist dinosaur." For me, it's more that listening to him makes my hair hurt. I also did my best to limit exposure to the Wiggles and the Doodlebops, which somehow were just magically never on when my kids wanted to watch TV. Then the little twerps learned to read. . . . :-)

Funniest part for me was when DD discovered Journey and started walking around wailing "Don't Stop Believing." Right up there with Barney in the Pantheon of Painful Events, but way cuter.

Posted by: laura33 | August 21, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

We were pro-active. If I'm going to listen to childrens music (which is the case more often than not), then I want to listen to the good stuff. So, we listen to a lot of Trout Fishing in America, Billy Jonas, etc.

That much having been said, they've recently latched onto the Backyardagins. In Spanish. We'll see how my sons voices are when they get back from Latin America in a couple weeks.

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | August 21, 2009 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Barney is back at my house. It was more of an act of desperation than a thoughtful decision to bring him back. We just needed something to babysit while we cook, and we had some CDs leftover from DS's toddlerhood, so it went in. DD was immediately charmed, and now demands Barney every day. The rest of us hate it, especially our 9 year old who claims we are torturing him, but it buys us 20 minutes or so when we can cook each evening, so it's worth it. I am not worried that it will ruin her long term taste in music, or about the commercialization of her tastes. Those things just are not on my priority list of things to be concerned about. Eventually, she will grow to hate Barney just as my son did, and Barney will be banished again from our house. For now, he is in.

Posted by: emily8 | August 21, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

My oldest is 2.5. My husband is the world's biggest music snob, and children's music generally gives me a headache, so we've limited kid's music to They Might Be Giants. We have an enormous playlist of "safe" but adult songs she can choose from. We've just introduced The Doors, and she now asks for "Mr. Mojo Risin, like Mr. Rogers." Her favorite band is the Chili Peppers, and her favorite song is "I'm Not Afraid" by a group called Fleming and John. We are very happy about this. She hasn't asked for kids' music, but if she does, we'll just tell her we don't have that song.

BTW, Mr. Rogers rules! Simple, yes, but very calming. PBS has some great kids' shows, without the screaming and insanity of the Nick shows.

Posted by: atb2 | August 21, 2009 10:38 AM | Report abuse

"My husband is the world's biggest music snob"....coupled with...."We've just introduced The Doors".

Thank you for the laugh. Hilarious stuff.

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

The Doors are from me. He's more of a Led Zeppelin guy. The Doors really are pretty laughable. But I still LOVE LA Woman and 5 to 1.

Posted by: atb2 | August 21, 2009 11:17 AM | Report abuse

The Doors are from me. He's more of a Led Zeppelin guy. The Doors really are pretty laughable. But I still LOVE LA Woman and 5 to 1.

Posted by: atb2 | August 21, 2009 11:18 AM | Report abuse

Exactly. Same goes for drunk adults.

"Shout"
"Sweet Caroline"
"Mony, Mony"

...and dancing (Macarena, Cabbage Patch)

Posted by: pipe1 | August 21, 2009 9:39 AM | Report abuse
____________________________________

Thanks for the laugh, pipe1! It's so true... :)

Posted by: sighnyc | August 21, 2009 11:50 AM | Report abuse

My all-time favorite kid-and-music moment:

Younger son was a very young toddler - talking, but still a little hard to understand. My last friend from high school was in town. He'd met DH and older son once before, but this was the first time he met younger son. So, he came by our house before I got home from work, and he's sitting on the couch in the living room, talking blues with DH. Younger son toddles into the room, hops up onto the couch, turns and stares h.s. friend straight in the face, and begins to sing:

"The torture - Uh!
The torture - Uh!
The torture never stops,
The torture never stops,
The torture never stops!"

H.s. friend imediately recognizes this is Frank Zappa (DH played the album a lot while housecleaning, because the music inspired him). I think the friend might even have reconsidered his choice not to have kids if they could be that cool - for about half a second, maybe.

Barney, yeah we went through that stage... But the boys grew out of it. We also listened to a *lot* of Raffey, for a while. DH used to take his guitar into the kids' classrooms in the earliest grades, and play and get the kids singing along - again a lot of Raffey material and other kids' songs.

And the only lullaby that I could ever remember all the words to was "The Baby Tree" by Jefferson Airplane. So, the boys eventually got tired of me singing it over and over to them, and would ask me to stop as soon as I started. Of course, that might be because I'm not much of a singer, not because I kept repeating one song.

Just expose your kids to everything possible, and they'll find what they like, and what they like will change as they grow.

Posted by: SueMc | August 21, 2009 12:28 PM | Report abuse

We have a couple of kids CDs but mostly they listen to whatever we put on. They have their preferences of course but seem open to just about anything we listen to. Occasionally they make requests to listen to something and sometimes they complain about the music being played. All in all, pretty much like the adults in the household.

Posted by: Billie_R | August 21, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

I am ashamed to say that our kids, esp. our two year old daughter, are huge fans of the Pussycat Dolls. Just the music. And they have no idea what they're saying, they just love the beat and the bass. Any suggestions on similar "sounds" of music without the same lyrical connotations would be welcome! We also went through a Journey phase, but that's generally over. Oh, on one car trip our daughter would only stop screaming if Aerosmith was on. Jimmy Buffett and Garth Brooks had their moments, but Aerosmith was the favorite. (This is all my husband's eclectic tastes!)

Posted by: anamig | August 21, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

"Just expose your kids to everything possible, and they'll find what they like" - suemc

This is a surefire way to ensure 4 uniterrupted months of 2 Unlimited (or worse...is there worse? Ace of Base?).

Why on earth would you put yourself through that?

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Why on earth would you put yourself through that?

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 12:59 PM

???????

I have no idea what you mean - could you possibly translate your post into common English?

How does exposing one's children to every kind of music "ensure 4 uniterrupted months of ..." [nonsensical gibberish omitted] ?

Our kids have been to symphonies, operas, broadway musicals, concerts (lots and lots!), religious music performances (DH used to sing with a religious chorus), and there's nearly always music on in the house - usually something from DH's collection, which is *extremely* eclectic. Next up will probably be Michael Frante's "Power to the Peacful" concert in San Francisco.

What's most fun is when younger son would drag his guitar over to the piano and coax older son to play with him. "Yellow Submarine" and "Smoke on the Water" were especially memorable for me.

So, what exactly did you believe we were "putting ourselves through"?

Posted by: SueMc | August 21, 2009 1:29 PM | Report abuse

All the kids wound up with their own tastes, but only DS adopted my Warren Zevon fan-hood. DW was getting on him about something one day when he was about 10, and he started singing "send lawyers, guns and money; the sh1t has hit the fan" over and over. I thought DW was going to kill him and me, both. :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | August 21, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

SueMc's Frank Zappa story is a stitch as was laura33's story about daughter singing Journey! We had a Pete Seeger tape when my eldest was young and she took to running around singing "oh you can't scare me, I'm stickin' to the union..." at about 3 years of age.

Posted by: annenh | August 21, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

So, what exactly did you believe we were "putting ourselves through"?

Posted by: SueMc

It would seem his degree of eclectic-ness does not extend to 90's horrific dance/techno/euro-disco.

In the future, when I respond to you, I'll try to refrain from jokes that reference bad popular music, and stick with what you know.

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, AB -- now I've got Warren Zevon stuck in my head, grr.

Which, of course, is still infintely preferable to the Ace of Base travesty that our numerical friend subjected me to earlier. . . .

Posted by: laura33 | August 21, 2009 1:53 PM | Report abuse

It would seem his degree of eclectic-ness does not extend to 90's horrific dance/techno/euro-disco.

In the future, when I respond to you, I'll try to refrain from jokes that reference bad popular music, and stick with what you know.

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 1:39 PM

Ah, thank you! That clears up my confusion.

Nope - and no 80's disco either! (But all the ABBA albums are his, not mine - wink!)

We had a radio disney phase, but neither DH nor I could stand more than 10-15 minutes. If the boys tuned their stereo to that station, they kept it turned way down so we wouldn't hear it outside their room. If they asked for it in the car, they might get it, or might not. And if they got it in the car, as soon as one of the *really* bad pop tunes came on, they had to listen to DH (mostly, or me ocasionally) brutally critiquing it, or we'd change to a station we liked.

I don't advocate letting kids constantly and continually inflict their choices or favorites on everyone else. In our family, control / choice of music is shared by everyone in turns. And no repeats are allowed - we had to institute that rule when older son was on his "Thomas the Tank Engine" phase (pre-school, before we had his autism diagnosis), or those little jingles would have been *endless*.

Oh, and I'm a Warren Zevon fan, but the only one in our family, so I don't get to listen to my "awful" favorite too often either.

Posted by: SueMc | August 21, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

We pretty much listen to all types of music at home. Kids go to bed to classical (usually a Sleeping Beauty cd; can't remember now -- is it Tchaikovsky?) or 90.9. We try to limit radio use b/c one minute there's a "normal" song and then bam! "birthday sex...birthday sex" (insert incredibly irritated eye roll here). I realized lately I'm starting to despise the radio but there was one horrible song played the other morning: something about the fool singing wanting money, cars and clothes w/a chorus of "I just wanna be successful." It was a nice lead-in for a discussion w/oldest DD about what measures success.

Our iPod has 10K songs on it and they range from alternative to jazz to pop to r&b to blues to rap. We just try to skip the ones that aren't kid-friendly (which, admittedly, are quite a few).

Posted by: 1moreandthen | August 21, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I play classical piano for fun and would love it if my 2-year old liked classical music. There's a time and a place for everything, and it's just not her thing now. But you know music is music, right now she loves to sing the Barney song to mom and dad before bed, with the requisite hugs and kisses thrown in. She also breaks into the Baby Bob Song spontaneously in the grocery store. I never thought I would like Barney, but if he's teaching my daughter to love singing and dancing then as far as I'm concerned that big annoying purple dinosaur is the MAN. From what I read here, it sound like teaching good taste is more important to some parents than instilling a love of music. I hate to tell you but this endeavor is likely doomed from the start, because once they pick up on the fact that you want them to like a certain thing you are just plain screwed. Just treat it all the same, try to share your enjoyment of music in general, make all of the different styles familiar and accessible. Music is harmless and comforting, and the more comforting things your kid knows how to enjoy in life the better off they are.

Posted by: tiggertime1 | August 21, 2009 3:18 PM | Report abuse

"music is music"..."Just treat it all the same" - tiggertime

C'mon, really? "Mmmm bob" and "Cop Killa" are the same? "Hey Jude" and "The Ketchup Song" are the same?

I guess one person's trash is another's treasure, but I think it's a bad lesson to treat all art as "the same".

And while I agree that all music is harmless (in the 'words can never hurt me' sense), I challenge you to listen to, say, Pearl Jam's "Bugs" and call it comforting.

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

sorry, "mmmmmm, bop!" (apologies to Hanson)

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

06902, Hanson should be apologizing to us for that (and, btw, you've done it again -- argh!). :-)

Posted by: laura33 | August 21, 2009 4:05 PM | Report abuse

No, to us it's different, but to a two year old it's all just music, and they're going to repond to whatever they can move to best. My daughter loves Eminem, especially the song that won the oscar (can't remember the name). It's musically smart and creative, but psychologically screwed-up. I'll wait to have that conversation later. I do think that art is a bit overated, reassurance and enjoyment is what most people need more of, not "good-taste".
I apparently have missed out on Bugs, I'll check it out though, I hope to be both shocked and disappointed.

Posted by: tiggertime1 | August 21, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

"I apparently have missed out on Bugs, I'll check it out though, I hope to be both shocked and disappointed."

You've missed out on nothing. I suspect you'll lean heavy to the disappointed side - and you'll never get that 2 min 45 seconds back.....

Posted by: 06902 | August 21, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

My son just turned 3 and he's really into Veggie Tales. While it's not in love with the music, I think it's a little more creative than Barney and certainly offers more variety! They do have a little of a religious twist, but I'd encourage moms and dads to check them out for their little ones: http://www.shop.com/veggie+tales

Posted by: KatLuvsShoes | August 21, 2009 5:28 PM | Report abuse

"a little of a religious twist"? That's an understatement.

Veggie Tales is Biblically-based and quoting. And fantastically fun if consistent with your family's beliefs. Our kids loved the music, we had fun with it, too.

Oh, Where is my Hairbrush?

The Bunny, The Bunny, Ooohh I live the Bunny. . . .

The all-time family fave: "Oh, No, What're we gonna do? The King loves Daniel more than me and you . . . ."

Posted by: anonfornow | August 22, 2009 12:39 PM | Report abuse

Our house has remained immune to Barney, namely due to our banning of anything relating to The Big Purple. However, classic Disney is a biggie, as well as Old School Sesame Street.

Our music selection for the children pretty much runs the gamut, albeit a bit on the eclectic side. Their CD collection includes classic Sesame Street songs, Disney kids' songs, Raffi, Burl Ives, The Kings' Singers, and even their all-time favorite, Guy's All-Star Shoe Band (those of you who listen to "A Prairie Home Companion" on NPR know which group I'm talking about). We also have Glen Miller, Sinatra, and Ravel in their selection too, courtesy of our older daughter going through a jazz phase a while back (my fault; I introduced her to Sinatra and the rest is history).

Older daughter is now 7, and has a clock radio in her room (she wanted to be able to wake herself up for school). Fortunately, her taste in music tends towards classic rock nowadays (that's all we play in the car, and the variety is great). She LOVES the Beatles, and quite often she'll come running in telling us about a song playing that is one of our favorites.

Modern influences still apply; my husband brought home the DVD of "Mamma Mia!" a while back, and every time she watches it, you can count on her either singing along with it or repeating the songs for hours afterwards. But since a lot of the songs in that movie are courtesy of ABBA, I can't really complain....

And pipe1, I agree about "Mony Mony!" That was popular at college parties, and to this day I can't hear it on the radio without suppressing the urge to shout "Hey everybody, get laid, get...(I'll substitute "bonked" here because this IS a family blog!) along with the song.

Don't think I'm gonna be telling the kids about that one....

Posted by: dragondancer1814 | August 22, 2009 4:42 PM | Report abuse

"pretty much runs the gamut, albeit a bit on the eclectic side."

-Department of Redundancy Department

Posted by: 06902 | August 24, 2009 8:17 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, anon, now I've got THAT going through my head:

Oh, where is my hair brush?
Oh, where is my hair brush?
Oh where oh where oh where oh where oh wherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeee...

Is my hairbrush?

We were actually fans of the VT Silly Songs before the kids were born. Mrs. Blade is a translator/interpreter and the Dance of the Tomato gets it perfectly when you have to interpret something with which you disagree. [Imagine a liberal at the Heritage Foundation or a conservative at Brookings.]

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | August 24, 2009 10:21 AM | Report abuse

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