You may remember being drawn to certain music when you were a teen. Maybe it spoke to you on a deep level that your parents didn’t seem to understand. Perhaps you didn’t really understand it either. Teens today are no different, and their mysterious connection to music is just as strong as generations before.
But how does music affect teenagers’ behavior and emotions? Music helps teens explore ideas and emotions in a safe way and express themselves without words. Exposure to positive influences through music can help teens learn coping mechanisms and appropriate responses to stressful situations. Music also helps teens connect to social groups and gain a feeling of belonging.
It can be hard to see questionable music choices as a positive influence in your teen’s life, but it’s best not to assume the worst either. Kids learn a lot through music, even if parents can’t see the value right away. By understanding how music affects teens’ emotions and behaviors, we can use it as a tool to better understand our kids and to help guide them to better choices and a happier life.
The Power of Music
The power of music to evoke strong emotions, imagery and ideas has been studied at great length. In the article, “Music has Powerful (and Visible) Effects on the Brain”, Dr. Jonathan Burdette underscores the close connection between music and emotions: “Music is primal. It affects all of us, but in very personal, unique ways. Your interaction with music is different than mine, but it’s still powerful”.
Teens are especially receptive to music’s power due to their quickly shifting emotions, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.
We already know that music can have a profound effect on the human brain, and the genre doesn’t seem to matter. Numerous studies have been conducted to see exactly how music influences thoughts and behaviors. So much research has gone into it that there’s even a formula for making popular music now.
But how do we harness the power of music to reach our teens?
Some of the draw to popular music has to do with the overpowering drive to belong. When a song or an artist sits in the spotlight, that song or artist suddenly becomes more appealing to teens.
By publicly expressing an appreciation for them (displaying their merchandise, for example) teens are announcing themselves as part of the bigger peer group. They do so in an attempt to gain acceptance and approval, even if they don’t actually care for the music itself. This can be both good and bad, but the outcome has a lot to do with how parents respond to it.
Using Popular Music to Connect
If you happen to like the song or band, your job is easy. Use it to connect with your teen over a shared appreciation for it.
However, if you loudly protest a particular band or song, it will only push your teen to love it more. Instead, accept that this is a part of their lives and look for ways to acknowledge the value in it.
Your teen may not be open to your opinion on the song either way, but you can still talk to them about music in general. Try not to judge their music choices or their reasons for listening to a particular band.
Instead, offer some stories from your own youth. Maybe your parents derided your music choices and made you feel bad. It’s okay to share that with your teen. They’ll see that you are not repeating the same mistake; they’ll recognize that as a respectful and positive response, even if they never say those words to your face.
By verbally accepting their music choices, you will gain their trust. They may be more willing to discuss their true reasons for jumping on that bandwagon. This simple conversation can open the door of communication regarding peer pressure and the dangers of changing yourself to fit society’s expectations.
There is Safety in Music
On the emotional end, kids often use music to relieve tension or to express their innermost feelings and thoughts in a nonverbal way. Teens aren’t as powerless as toddlers, for example, but they still have restrictions in the world which can cause frustration.
Many teens use music to purge those scary feelings. They can get out aggression or anger toward a
parent’s “unfair” rule without risking upsetting the family balance or getting into more trouble.
After a bad day, a teen may lock themselves in their room and blast something aggressive sounding. Maybe they ran in the house, teary-eyed and ignoring your questions. Then you heard the sad, soulful sounds of a breakup song through their earbuds.
These are clues to how your teen’s life is going outside of your influence. Using music to release the pent-up emotions they’ve held in all day is a healthy way for teens to cope. The songs may bring out more of the powerful emotions, but your teen is using it as a way to handle feelings that may be confusing or embarrassing.
Using Emotional Music to Connect
Depending on your teen’s personality and your history of heart to heart talks, you may be able to coax some information out of your teen. If they’re resistant, don’t push the topic. Instead, you can try asking about the music specifically. Ask what they like about it, what the lyrics mean, or even ask to see a video.
While your kid might not be ready to talk to you about what’s bothering them, by sharing the lyrics or showing you the video, they may be trying to tell you something without using words. Be there for them. Focus on the music and try to find ways to relate to it to help them feel less alone.
Music Distracts the Mind
Everyone needs a break from reality because life can be stressful. In our rush to get to work, fulfill our parenting duties, and keep the household running, it’s easy to forget that teens are stressed, too. School is a challenge, peer pressure can be oppressive and suffocating, and even a beloved family pet can be a nuisance on a bad day.
You may listen to music in the car or on the train to work. It’s a good way to block out the annoying surroundings and to escape for a little while. Kids do the same thing and for the same reasons.
How You Can Connect
Unless they’re ignoring homework, family time, and household chores, it’s best to just let your kids enjoy their time away. It may seem counterintuitive to allow your teen to disconnect as a way to connect but it works.
When you give your teen the space to block out the world once in a while and just listen to their music, you’re showing them they matter. Their needs are important to you and you respect their choice to step away for a little while and drift inside their own heads.
Once they come out and join the family again, you can ask about their favorite “zone out” music or band. Feel free to share some of your favorite music to tune out to. Who knows? Maybe they’ll find a new favorite.
The bottom line is that by telling your teen that you need to zone out to music once in a while, you’re
showing them they’re not weird. It’s normal to want to escape sometimes.
Other Ways Teens Use Music
Like adults, teens use music for a variety of reasons. Some of your teen’s music choices may have to do with their gender, according to this study. Girls seem more likely to use music to handle sad feelings like loneliness or to handle a breakup. Boys tend to use music to invigorate and give them energy. That’s not to say that teens of both genders can’t use music in both ways.
Some other common uses for music include inspiration for art or even homework, to keep their minds busy while completing chores, and for simple entertainment. They are often experimenting with setting the mood with friends by trying new music, too.
When Music is A Problem
For the most part, music is a safe and acceptable way for teens to handle their thoughts and feelings. Even unrelatable music that you just can’t understand can be a good way for teens to unwind and explore ideas.
If, however, your teen escapes into their music too often, it’s something you should talk about. Let them know it’s okay to listen to music, but it’s not okay to forgo responsibilities or family time.
This is not the time for punishment; you’ll only drive them farther away and deeper into the music. Instead, let them know that you understand and that sometimes you want to dive into your music, too. Remind them, though, that it’s also important to stay present in the moment, handle the daily stuff, and to face challenges head-on once they recharge a little.
Most of the time, music creates a safe space for teens to work out internal conflicts. But what if you observe negative behavioral changes over time that you can trace directly to the music and media which surrounds your teen? It may be time to consult your pediatrician or a counselor to share your concerns.
Music is a tool. Just like any other tool, you can show your kids how to use it to their benefit. By talking about music and sharing it with your child, you can begin to open their minds.
If your relationship has been damaged by hurtful past words or making fun of their music, this can take some time. But stick with it. Once your teen trusts that you won’t make fun of them or try to take their music away, they might open up. You may be surprised what a meaningful conversation about music can reveal about your teen’s inner self.
Is there a positive influence of music on youth? Music can help elevate mood and give teens a way to express their feelings and emotions without words. Music also encourages creativity, increases kindness, and can have a positive impact on grades.
Do music and lyrical content influence human behavior? Yes, in many ways. Music can influence people to behave in a variety of ways based on the lyrics in a song or the tempo and pacing of the music. Music can also influence how we shop, what we eat at restaurants, and how quickly (or slowly) we browse stores.