When Music Encourages Dangerous Behavior

When Music Encourages Dangerous Behavior

For many generations, popular music has played a significant role in the lives of young people. Although it seems quaint now, the uproar over Elvis and his gyrating pelvis or the Beatles and their long hair was a real source of contention among the youth of the 1960s and their parents. But in that same generation, music played a central role in important events like the anti-war movement and the struggle for Civil Rights.

Fast forward several decades to today, and the least of a parent’s concern is long hair or seductive dancing (though “twerking” isn’t something you want to see your kids doing). From pop music to hip hop to heavy metal to RAP, some lyrics have gone far beyond being merely suggestive to downright graphic in nature. Some feature violent images, misogynistic lyrics and the promotion of drug use, with many songs talking about getting high. Others encourage suicide.

One popular band, Pierce the Veil, says the following in its song “Dive In.”

Do you remember the knife I kept?
The sharper it got, the more you wanted me to use it
I was lying to you, but you were lying too
So what’s left to do?
What’s left to say?
Stop making friends, just us
I’ll decompose with you
So light the fuse inside your brain and
We will detonate

In his song “So Much Better,” Eminen raps, “I got 99 problems and a b*tch ain’t one / She’s all 99 of ’em; I need a machine gun.”

And those are just two examples (and hardly the most disturbing). Plus, the content of videos can be even worse.

Professor Katrina Skewes McFerran, Head of Music Therapy, Melbourne Conservatorium of Music, University of Melbourne, makes the point that kids aren’t passive recipients of music; they are “active agents” when it comes to their interactions with music.

“Most healthy young people will naturally use music in really positive ways – to explore different aspects of their identity, to have a great time, to motivate them to exercise, to distract them from problems, to cover up outside noises so they can focus on homework,” she says.  “But if young people are feeling bad, they’re more inclined to use music to deepen in to dark feelings. This can be great for validation and helping them feel understood—but sometimes it goes wrong, and it actually intensifies negative feelings.”

Brooke Hambrecht, LMSW at North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, says she often talks with her clients and their parents about how the music we listen to impacts our mood. “Sometimes teenagers who are down and depressed choose to listen to sad or negative music, which brings their low even further down,” she explains. “Also, kids who are feeling angry and enraged often choose to listen to a song that intensifies their rage.”

Although listening to music is a coping skill, Hambrecht encourages her clients to choose the right kind of music in order for it to be an adaptive coping skill. “Something I talk about is mindful song selecting, or picking music that can bring their mood to a better place—the place they want to be instead of the negative place that they are,” she says.

Here are a few tips to help you talk to your kids about music:

  • Encourage your child’s love of music—it can be a powerful emotional and creative force in their lives.
  • Suggest your kids create a “good mood” playlist of songs that make them happy.
  • Start talking about music with your child from a very young age rather than just when they become tweens or teens. The lessons you teach them when they are young will impact their future choices.
  • Do keep an “ear” out for the lyrics in the music they are listening to, and if it contains messages that you deem unacceptable, discuss it with them rather than just telling them to stop listening it or criticizing it.

The takeaway: Let the lyrics that you find offensive or worrisome open a conversation about the fact that drugs, alcohol, violence and suicide are not subjects that should be glamorized.