Friday, May 8, 2009

Music and Its Effects on Teenagers

Music, by definition, is “the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination, and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity” (Webster 781). This particular form of art has transcended time, serving as a form of expression used by people of every cultural background in nearly every country in the world; most importantly, in that of American society. There aren’t many people in this free world who don’t listen to some form of it. Among those individuals stand the emerging species known as the youth of America. Music, itself, has undergone dramatic changes over time, as it continues to evolve along with its creators and listeners. It’s not so much the music alone, but the lyrics entwined in it, that has gained perhaps the most attention. Ever since the introduction of rock and roll music more than forty years ago, music lyrics have become a national issue of controversy and concern. During the past four decades, rock music lyrics have become increasingly explicit, involving references to sex, drugs, and violence. Now, as America enters into a new millennium, the core of youth culture is finding itself surrounded by this “pop rock” phenomenon, a sensation that is ever so increasingly serving as a strong impact on the lives and often the behavior of the young people in society. The evidence is clear and concise, that the influence this music has, particularly on children and teenagers, is becoming greater than ever; unfortunately, it is not always in a positive manner.

In order to allow for a greater understanding of pop music’s role in adolescent culture, one needs a better understanding of adolescence itself and how the particular stage in human development affects the brain. Many think of adolescence as the teenage years, but experts in child development tend to say that age ten marks the beginning of this time in life. It is also suggested that the easiest way to tell if a child has reached adolescence is to notice whether or not he or she has developed a passion for popular music. Once this “passion” occurs, the mind, mood, and overall emotional state of adolescents becomes increasingly affected (O’ Toole 1). “Music alters and intensifies their moods, furnishes much of their slang, dominates their conversations, and provide the ambiance at their social gatherings. Music styles define the crowds and cliques they run in. Music personalities provide models for how they act and dress” (O’Toole 2). Adolescents use music most to control mood and enhance emotional states. Music can make a bad mood better and allow teenagers to escape them; the same fact goes for people of all ages. However, teenage moods are more susceptible to becoming negatively enhanced. So it allows reason to believe that music lyrics about suicide and violence have occasionally led troubled youth to commit suicide or violent crimes, which proves that the music they are listening to, does effect their behavior (O’Toole 4). Dr. Norman Weinberger, a professor of neurobiology with the University of California, says several important findings show that "music can color our transactions with the world. Our thinking and behavior are colored by music, which seems to have direct and unconscious access to the brain. Furthermore, music does not necessarily create emotions but provides a trigger for the release of emotions already present” (O’Toole 4). This belief of possible behavioral effects has also been linked to educational performance. The relationship between school grades and the music a particular student listens to may or may not be closely related. Studies have indicated that early school achievement has an influence on musical taste later on, however, not the other way around. Believing otherwise, “only comes from common teenage stereotypes” (O'Toole 3-4).

Whether it involves a newborn baby listening to a nighttime lullaby, a middle-aged housewife humming the melody of a classic love ballad, or a teenage student bopping his head to the latest “gangsta rap joint,” music is a major part of the everyday lives of people all over the world. Today, this growing appeal for music is at its peak, and society’s fascination is greater than ever. Music, however, means so much more to teens than it does to anyone else. "Adolescents use music to gain information about the adult world, to withdraw from social contact, to facilitate friendships and social settings, or to help them create a personal identity” (O’Toole 5). Many factors contribute to this growing appeal. One factor that affects adolescent appeal is gender. Males and females differ greatly in how much they like various music genres. Females tend to show more attention to pop music and “black music,” including rap and hip-hop, and show a strong dislike for hard rock and heavy metal. Males generally are attracted to mainstream pop less than females. They commonly think of pop music as “hip and uncool.” Gender, however, plays only a minor role in the genre of music that appeals to teens. Race continues to be a factor in musical taste, especially in today’s world. African Americans stand as raps strongest fans, but this is often referred to as a stereotypical conclusion. It appears today that rap is at its highest point, and its appeal is forever growing. Rap music is now appealing to white Americans just as much as it does to African Americans. (Leeds 8). Another factor that contributes to music appeal, perhaps one of the strongest, is social background and environment. Where a child lives, how one was brought up, and the overall atmosphere that surrounds them does affect the kind of music one may listen to. Lastly, personality and a teen’s well-being plays a major role in music preferences and what kind of affect it has on them. Music is not usually a danger for a teenager whose life is happy and healthy. However, troubled or disturbed teens often turn to styles of music that may express the same kind of rage or emotions they are experiencing, and most of the time that kind of music offers violent and harmful solutions to problems they may be having (AACAP 1). Therefore, whether its gender, race, one’s well-being or background, factors of appeal when it comes to music fascination, vary with every teen, but without a doubt it proves just how much of an impact music has on adolescents.

Music, without a doubt, has played a vital role in American culture. Like the change in times, this form of entertainment and art has undergone dramatic changes. Since the introduction of rock and roll nearly forty years ago, music has been the subject of many controversies and stands as a growing concern for society. During the past four decades, music lyrics have become increasingly explicit, many containing reference to sex, drugs, and violence. Recently, heavy metal and rap music lyrics have brought forth the greatest concern. In some cases, lyrics communicate potentially harmful messages. For years, rappers like Snoop Dogg and Ice-T were put under the spotlight when it came to many of their lyrics, which usually involved references to sex, drugs, and violence. Some of Ice-T’s lyrics often became a subject of great controversy, especially when singing about the killing of cops, whom he’d express his great hatred towards. These lyrics in particular are of great concern in today’s world, one filled with unprecedented threats to adolescents. Pregnancy, drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, injuries, homicide, and suicide have all become part of “the landscape of everyday life for many American teens” (AAP 1). To date, no studies have proven that sexually explicit or violent lyrics cause adverse behavioral effects. It has been said that this lack of finding comes from the belief that teenagers often do not know the lyrics or fully understand their meaning. One study set out to prove this theory. In it, thirty percent of teenagers knew the lyrics to their favorite songs, and their comprehension varied greatly (Leeds 6). Most teens tend to interpret their favorite songs as “being about love, friendship, growing up, life’s struggles, having fun, cars, religion, and other topics that relate to their life” (Koehler 4).

With the creation of MTV, Music Television, in the 1980’s, the art of music videos was born. Music videos are a “powerful new force” in adolescent culture (O’Toole 3). Music video formats have become increasingly popular among children and adolescents. When music lyrics are illustrated through videos, their potential impact is magnified. For those teenagers who may not understand the lyrics to their favorite songs, they cannot avoid the, sometimes, disturbing images contained in many videos. Probably the most well known masters of producing images like these, is rocker, Marilyn Manson. Very rarely can one sit through a music video of his without seeing some scene of torture or gross innuendo. These videos are nothing but fancy computer images and cheap special effects. The fact remains these images are being seen by young people all over the world. Another chief example involves almost every single rap video ever made. Very rarely can one be seen without images of sex, drugs, or some kind of violent act, and nearly every kid in America has access to scenes of this nature. Studies show that 70 percent of American households get cable television and most teens have access to MTV and VH-1 and watch an average of a half hour to two hours of music videos daily. As with music lyrics, a teen’s ability to comprehend and interpret music videos varies widely and may be important to their potential impact (AAP 2).

As American further ventures into a new millennium, music lyrics and videos are becoming more and more of a national issue. The issue of music and its impact on society rests clearly on the shoulders of its creators, the ever-rising music industry. The many artists involved in making music are often the blame for the actions of society, teens in particular. Musicians do not want to be role models for kids, and they don’t necessarily write their music for a teen audience. However, everyday, children and teens are gaining access to all kinds of music, and the artists creating it are constantly being criticized and held responsible for their behavior. “These artists are using the language and images they feel are appropriate to describe the situations and ideas they sing about.” Marilyn Manson, for example, has been a major target when it comes to influencing negative teenage behavior. He thinks the world is in a state of moral and ethnic decline, full of “self-righteous hypocrites” (Wydra 2). His music is full of twisted images of decay and corruption. He has been attacked as a bad example for children, and someone who might turn “unsuspecting adolescents into devil worshipers” (Wydra 2). The same goes for the more recent issues surrounding Detroit rapper, Eminem, whose violent and hateful lyrics against homosexuals and women have all of America in a never-ending debate over the freedom of speech. There still remains no clear cut relationship between the lyrics sang by Manson and Eminem, and the actions of teens. However it is clear that these lyrics, intended or not, are influencing society (Wydra 2-3).
While there remains to be no real clear cause and effect relationship between the actions of adolescents and the music they listen to, studies have made important findings.

Unfortunately, the results of these studies vary dramatically, and it still remains a debatable mystery in American society. Music, which has evolved greatly in the last forty years, continues to be held responsible for teenage behavior, whether it be in a good or bad way. Artists and their lyrics are constantly surrounding the landscape of adolescent culture. In some way or another, what a child listens to does have some sort of influence on them. Their minds are being affected and in some cases, so is their behavior and actions. So, what is in store for the future? As the music industry continues to emerge, and a person’s right to free speech slowly expands with time, the lyrics of its artists and the images in their videos are becoming increasingly explicit. As time transcends, more and more of the adolescent population are finding themselves surrounded by music’s marvel appeal and the influential factors can only become greater in its seemingly never-ending impact on adolescent society in America.

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