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The Ruckus Over Rap Music
MTV & BET in Trouble With Parents...Again!
An article from David R. Smith at

Parents ask us all the time: Is rap really that bad? Do I really need to block MTV?

Well… let’s do a little math. MTV + Rap = up to one instance of offensive/adult content every 38 seconds. How do you like them apples? (or should we say, “melons”)

In case you didn’t hear last week, MTV and BET, two highly popular TV networks, are in the hot seat after The Parents Television Council released a report claiming they were “assaulting children” with “offensive and adult content.”

The bad news? This wasn’t their first offense.

The worse news? It probably won’t be their last.

The 21-page report offers an in-depth look at the two networks’ morning, after-school, and weekend programming that showcased messages of drugs, violence, sex, and foul language. The PTC, working in tandem with Enough is Enough Campaign, led by Rev. Delman Coates, studied three different music video shows, Sucker Free (MTV), Rap City, and 106 & Park (BET).

These 30 to 90 minute long TV shows feature the latest and hottest music videos for rap, hip-hop, R&B, and urban music available to the masses. Round out that programming with special guests like Kanye West, Jay-Z, and Mary J. Blige stopping in for celebrity appearances, and they’ve perfected the recipe for getting millions of teens to tune in and more importantly, to buy!

So, what’s wrong?
The PTC studied these three shows in December of 2007 and found such a “strikingly high volume” of adult-themed content they decided to re-study the shows in early March of 2008. What they found surprised even them, and outraged others.

In December, they documented 1,647 instances of offensive/adult content in the 27.5 hours of programming analyzed. (That’s 59.9 instances per hour…almost one per minute.) However, in March, there were 1,342 instances of offensive/adult content in a mere 14 hours of programming analyzed. (That’s 95.8 instances per hour…one every 38 seconds.)

In other words, it got worse.

Some of the other disappointing findings include:
  • The leading form of “adult content” was sexual in nature (45% of the total).

  • 29% of the “adult content” was explicit language, 13% involved violence, and 9% concerned drug use/sales.

  • The most commonly used expletive, in both December and March, was the “n word,” although it was bleeped or muted.

  • Every episode of MTV’s Sucker Free was rated “TV-14.” With one exception, all episodes of BET’s 106 & Park and Rap City were rated “TV-PG.”

  • 39% of Sucker Free viewers, 40% of 106 & Park viewers, and 41% of Rap City viewers were under 18 years of age.

Are these networks playing fair?
Note that the “adult” programming of MTV and BET under scrutiny by the PTC is being broadcast during the hours when most teenagers are available to watch (non-school hours). Further, some of the offensive words that were muted or bleeped in December were not muted or bleeped in March. Perhaps most alarming is the fact that MTV and BET omitted some content descriptors from their shows that work in conjunction with the V-chip (the device that allows parents to block certain programs containing sexual content, violence, and foul language). PTC’s president, Tim Winter, says, “This is a major problem for parents who are told repeatedly to rely on their V-chips to protect their children.”

Bottom line: MTV and BET do not seem to be playing fair.

Looking back to move forward
If these were first time violations, the networks might expect some grace from watchdog groups like the PTC. Unfortunately, both MTV and BET have been in parents’ crosshairs before, for offenses ranging from previous “adult content” concerns, to the less harmful prevalence of “unhealthy food” ad campaigns.

In spite of parents’ opinions about this programming, our kids are still watching…a lot! Recent studies confirm that kids are digesting 8.5 hours of media every day (TV, iPods, Internet, etc). The 62% of teenagers with TV’s in their bedrooms are watching 4-5 hours more each week than their less-connected peers. And when it comes to their music, there is no doubt the lyrics affect them. As this article clearly explains, over-exposure to these types of adult content leads teenagers into dangerous territories such as depression, distancing from parents, and early sex.

Until the networks grow ethics, or artists fall out of love with money, we can expect much of the same. So, what’s our role as youth leaders in this dilemma?

  1. Don’t be surprised that MTV and BET act like, well, MTV and BET! Their intent is to make money, and lots of it. Execs don’t sit around and wonder about the negative fallout in kids’ lives that stems from their programming. Simply make yourself aware of the programming that your students are exposing themselves to, without becoming engrossed in it, yourself. Podcast #14 from explains exactly how to do just that.

  2. As usual, make parents aware of the truth. The sad facts are, adult programming for kids’ consumption DOES exists, kids ARE soaking it up, and it IS wreaking havoc on teens’ lives. Inform parents that no “chip” or “parental block” can adequately substitute for intentional and involved parenting. Plead with them to spend lots of time with their children, teaching them how to make godly, wholesome decisions when it comes to their choices, especially those involving entertainment. Take advantage of our Parent Resources page or consider bringing Jonathan out to do one of his amazing Parent Seminars.

  3. Converse with students about their media choices. Ask them what they watch and listen to on a regular basis. If it is questionable content, help them understand the potential risks associated with the dangerous messages interwoven in the entertainment. If you handle yourself correctly and gently, most students are open to dialoguing about “their” music.

David R. Smith David R. Smith is a 15-year youth ministry veteran who helps youth workers and parents through his writing, training, and speaking. David specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. He co-authored his first book this year, Ministry By Teenagers. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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