The Taylor Swift Survival Guide for Gen X Dads
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The Taylor Swift Survival Guide for Gen X Dads

How to tolerate your teen’s Tay Tay obsession without losing your mind

Taylor Swift posing with fans
The Arrow/Getty

I live with teenage girls, which means I also live with Taylor Swift. Not the actual singer, but her music is omnipresent in our house. Every conversation somehow reverts back to Tay Tay. When I managed (miraculously) to score tickets to Swift’s “Eras tour, their fandom just got more intense.

There are worse artists for my daughters to become infatuated with. Swift exudes an endearing aspirational earnestness. But like many Gen X dads, I find myself biting my tongue, trying to stop myself from saying something snide or sarcastic about their pop idol. I may never get swept up in Taylor-mania, but I don’t want to be the dad whose girls have stopped talking to him because he snapped after hearing “Mirrorball” too many times.

I reached out to Elizabeth Scala, a Gen X mom of teenage daughters and University of Texas professor who teaches a class on Swift, and Eugene Beresin, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and executive director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, for their tips on surviving the Age of Swift.

Show genuine curiosity

Beresin has firsthand experience in this field — his 13-year-old grandkids are Swifties — and his advice is to not be a passive participant in their fandom. That means asking questions. (Actual questions, not snarky “You call this music?” quips.)

“What are you listening to?” he suggests asking. “What do you make of the words? What do they mean to you?”

There’s always a way into a song, even if your first reaction is to zone out. Growing up in the ’80s, I was a huge Rush nerd. My dad, not so much. But he watched their videos with me and became fascinated by drummer Neil Peart. He asked me questions about Neil’s unusually long solos, and remarked that the guy was probably going to end up with bad arthritis. At the time, I saw it as evidence my dad was a curmudgeon. And maybe he was, but he was a curmudgeon who spent time with me. I still think about those conversations years later because he wasn’t attacking the thing I loved. He was engaging with it, paying attention, being curious and trying to understand.

Just as dogs can smell fear, teen girls can sniff out dad sarcasm. Ask questions like you actually want the answer.

Make musical connections

Focus on conversation, not conversion. No dad has ever won over his kids by saying, “You want to hear some real music for a change?” But that doesn’t mean letting your musical tastes dominate the car stereo.

I’m a big fan of the Police, and my 13-year-old is becoming one. She even learned how to play “Message in a Bottle” (which we agree is their best song) on the piano for me as a Father’s Day gift. Swift has a song by the same name — before I heard it, I’d hoped it was a cover — and toggling between the two is a natural point of connection. 

“Sharing music is fundamental to building relationships,” says Beresin. “This is an incredible venue to make close emotional connections with your kids.” It doesn’t always work. I have yet to convince either of my daughters that Swift’s “You Belong With Me” covers the same ground as seemingly every Spin Doctors song, especially “Two Princes.” But we’re talking about music — without condescension or the “my music vs. your music” emotional divide — so it feels like a win.

It’s not “Now it’s my turn to pick the music.” It’s “This song you love reminds me of a song that I love, and if you wouldn’t mind, I’d love to share it with you.”

Think of Swift as a cheerleader for your teen’s self-esteem

Surviving Taylor Swift is not about how I will come out on the other end of this Taylor Swift obsession; it’s about how my daughters will.

Swift’s songs connect with my girls through shared sadness and shared successes, common travails and common triumphs. Her lyrics, especially the ones about heartbreak, pulse with memories. Give a listen to a song like “Fifteen.” “In your life,” Swift sings, “you’ll do things greater than / Dating the boy on the football team / I didn’t know it at fifteen.” How many teenage girls need to hear that?

“Girls are told they misunderstand,” says Scala, “and that they blow things out of proportion. Their concerns are belittled as emotional, domestic or narrow. Swift tells your girls that their thoughts and ideas are anything but.”

Just as the music I loved helped shape the man I became, Swift is helping shape my girls into the women they will become. The better I understand that, the better I will understand them.

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