The other day I was driving in the car with my kids when my daughter started singing along to the radio: “You look better with the lights off, betterwith the lights off.”

“Seriously?” I asked. “Do you know what you are singing. That’s not really appropriate.” I leaned over and pushed the button on the XM radio to change the station. I immediately started tapping my foot along with the catchy beat that spilled from the speakers and into the car, and then stopped abruptly when I realized what I was grooving to.

“Well that’s better mom,” my sarcastic pre-teen reprimanded, while laughing along with her brothers in the backseat.

Ugh! I hadn’t realized I was bopping along to Rhianna’s “S&M.” “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but whips and chains excite me.”

Exasperated I flicked the radio to the holiday channel, and took solace in the songs of the season. Meanwhile my children were still sharing a good laugh at my expense.

“Are any of the songs you listen to appropriate?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” my 10-year-old son responded. “But you gotta admit mom, it has a good beat.”

I couldn’t deny him that, evident by my foot tapping just moments before. It’s not the first (or last) time I will have been betrayed by one of my own body parts. I shook my head in despair letting a exasperated laugh escape my throat, feeling very much, I’m sure, like my mother used to when my younger sister and I found her in similar contradictory positions when we were teenagers. Where had the days of Disney sing-a-longs gone. Curious about what else the kids were listening to, I did a little private investigating. It wasn’t difficult, as the iPods and iPads are not allowed to have passwords on them, and much to my dismay, the kids leave them lying all over the house. Today, however, I found everything neatly on shelves in their bedrooms.

My first stop … My 12-year-old son’s room to seek out his iPod. Easy enough to find, but lo and behold, there was a password on there. Note to self: Take care of that as soon as he gets home from school. Moving on.

Next stop … my 12-year-old daughters room. And what did I find at the top of her Rhapsody list? Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” which begins “There ain’t no reason you and I should be alone/ tonight yeah, baby/ tonight yeah, baby/ I got a reason that you’re who should take me home tonight.” Hadn’t I just aimlessly been humming that song the other day? Second on the list? “Just Can’t Get Enough” by the Black-eyed Peas. “Boy I think about it every day/ I’m addicted wanna jump inside your love/ I wouldn’t wanna have it any other way/ I’m addicted and I just can’t get enough.” I didn’t want to see what was next, but I continued on.  No. 3 “The Time (Dirty Bit)” by the aforementioned Peas. I was afraid to listen. “I don’t wanna take no pictures/ I just wanna take some shots so/ So come on let’s go, let’s lose control/ Let’s do it all night ’til we can’t do it no more!” Besides the obvious fact that the grammar in this song is horrific — “I don’t wanna take no,” and I don’t recall “wanna” in the dictionary — but really? Are there any appropriate songs out there children?

Justin Beiber’s “Stuck in the Moment” gave me little piece of mind. The lyrics were a little more appropriate, but the subject matter revolved around  a young love more intense than “Romeo and Juliet’s.” How old is he? Seventeen? What can he know about real love? I know his and 19-year-old Selena Gomez’s relationship is splashed on the covers of all the gossip magazines and their “romantic” Hawaiian getaways are well-documented, but shouldn’t these kids just be being kids. They’re young, they’re dating and they’re having fun. Do we have to speculate about how in love they are and whether their relationship will stand the test of time? OK, I digress … and I’m sounding really OLD right now, and more and more like my mom everyday. Not such a bad thing, but this is the world our young children are navigating nowadays. We live in a world that is forcing kids to grow up so damn fast, and face topics much earlier than we parents had to.And most of us parents, like me, are struggling to play catch up.

For example, my seventh-graders came home the other day discussing a student who had claimed to bring crack cocaine to school and was showing it around to her friends. Another friend of a friend was nervous because she had brought alcohol to school in her backpack packed for a sleepover later that night. I don’t even want to get into the sex talks of last year and the speculation (and sometimes true stories) of pregnant middle-schoolers.

Do I even want to tell you the last song I wrote down, #5 on my daughters playlist? Rhianna’s “California King Bed.” Enough said. Are we really surprised our kids are trying to grow up so fast? Here, my husband and I like to think we are on top of things. We are pretty open with our kids. We’ve had the sex talks and the alcohol talks. We can joke about the lyrics of a song, and discuss their inappropriateness on the way to and from school. We’ve heard of first kisses and dances and crushes, and they seem to be sharing a lot of what’s going on in school. Yet still, there is a block on one preteens iPod, and the other’s list of Top 5 songs is a little concerning. What secrets are they keeping? What aren’t they sharing with us?

My 10-year-old is right. These songs do have a good beat. I tend to crank up “California King Bed” and “The Time” whenever I hear them in the car. Maybe, I should start paying more attention to the lyrics. Not because I am going to put a ban on them, because let’s face it, these are some of the same songs being played at school dances, and in the gym during basketball warm-ups. But at least if I know what we’re all listening to I’ll be able to have more informed discussions with the kids. And isn’t that the most important thing in keeping them on the right track, keeping the lines of communication open? I’ve also found being able to laugh – at myself most of the time — helps tackle these tough subjects, too.

Just like the case above, it helped me know that my kids knew exactly what they were listening to, and the fact that I was trying to moderate it when every song on the radio, minus perhaps those on XM Kids, pretty much contains the same lyrics, was pretty funny. But if I hadn’t been able to laugh along with them that day, the conversations that followed about the music on their iPods and the happenings at school may not have happened.

Now if someone can just tell me how to begin the conversation with my 10-year-old about the song I just found paused on Pandora radio on his iPad … “Jerk it Out.”  Yikes!