What kind of influence does music hold over our lives? How about the lives of our children?
I’m starting to sound like an old man. I’m starting to sound like my father. That’s a tough concept to wrap one’s head around as we age as parents, but it’s there and there isn’t much we can do about it. So what brought on this lamentation of age? Was it wisdom? Was it some epiphany about life that mixed with the contemplative nature of growing older and the motion in the universe? Not even close. No, good readers, I’m starting to sound like an old man because my kids’ music sucks, and I told them so.
To be fair, it isn’t “their” music. If you think about it, as I’m sure many of you have, the state of music has always been as such. There has always been mass produced Top-40 crap that has permeated the market to our constant displeasure. “This isn’t music,” we’d lament, pulling out our deep cuts vinyl collection and dusting off the record player to prove a point. That much hasn’t changed. When I was younger, my father took one whiff of the synthesizer heavy 1980s and immediately intervened.
So while I was a physical child of the 1980s (actually born in the late 1970s) I was brought up on the music of the baby boomers. For me, there was Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull (who I’ve seen live four times and would like to forget they made music in the 1980s as it was terrible), The Who, Rolling Stones, Queen, David Bowie (Ziggy Stardust remains one of my favorite albums to date), Traffic, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Electric Light Orchestra, King Crimson (the original masters of progressive rock) and the list goes on. You get the point. I’ve even gone so far as to collect most of these groups albums on vinyl myself. More on that in a moment.
Where Elvis scared parents with his hip shaking, Lil’ Wayne scares parents with his thuggish demeanor and propensity towards alcohol, violence, and dehumanizing women. There’s a difference, but at the same time there isn’t. On one hand we fear what we don’t understand, on the other we fear what we do understand. In no way am I saying that Lil’ Wayne will have the same influence on the state of music as Elvis, I’m saying that he exists because there is a market for what he does. In my opinion, it’s not music, but many radio- and peer-influenced kids would disagree with that.
It’s pointless to ask a child what they consider good music. Most of them have yet to be able to identify the subtleties that create good music. They’ll know what they like though, and that’s a start. The important thing is that they are listening, that they are beginning to understand what effect music has on our brains in our daily lives, from concentration to useful distraction to pure enjoyment. The question then becomes (and it’s an age old question) are they being influenced, and if so, how much?
Considering the state of most of the music that is coming across the airwaves these days, hopefully the influence in behavior is slight. Music though has always been at the forefront of revolution. While it hasn’t specifically started a revolution (besides a rock ‘n’ roll one) music has always provided the soundtrack for generation after generation. Through lyrics (think of all the music influences by the Vietnam war) that are suggestively reactive, music has intertwined with our worldly lives, whether we notice it or not. Of course, most of us wish we hadn’t noticed the 1980s at all.
When the grunge movement pushed out hair metal, the world was going through some major communication changes. Where The Who’s Quadrophenia chronicled the battle between the Mods and the Rockers (both with their own particular tastes in music), the grunge movement was challenged by the rise of hip-hop and rap, and the messages couldn’t have been any more different. In my mind, while many sub-genres have popped up and grunge gave way to pop-punk alternative, the battle between rock and rap for our kids’ ears still rages on. In that, we stop thinking about what is good music (as there is plenty of great hip-hop and rap out there, primarily here) and what influences our kids are feeling from the music that is being spoon fed to them by corporate run Top 40 stations.
It’s all crap.
Clearly, if you ask any 14 year old, they are going to disagree with me. The fact is, no matter how much of “our” music we expose them to, they are going to make their own, usually peer-driven, choices. I’d love to say that I have kids that don’t succumb to peer pressure. We all would, but I’d rather them be peer pressured into listening to Katy Perry than to doing cocaine in a moving vehicle during a snowstorm. So while we can’t stop it, we can educate them about it. So after you have the tech talk, you might want to have the music talk. Because the truth is, music does influence behavior.
According to a report in The Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine of the average 2.5 hours of music kids are listening to in a day, one in three songs contain explicit references to drug or alcohol use. So they are getting about 35 references to substance abuse for every hour of music they listen to. Tack on degrading women and gun violence, and you’ve got some pretty heavy jive. That’s considering all genres of music, so I’m not picking on just one. Said the study authors, “Music is well-known to connect deeply with adolescents and to influence identity development, perhaps more than any other entertainment medium.”
If you have any question as to the influence of music in identity development, think about the “goth” kids. It started with the Cure and hasn’t stopped. But it doesn’t have to completely rule identity development. There are so many factors in the cognitive development of children and teens, there are whole disciplines of psychology devoted to it. While we tend to focus on movies, video games and their peers, we tend to overlook the influence of the music they are listening to. But there is hope! You can help!
As I grew older, I of course never put aside the music that I was raised on, and instead simply added to the collection. Right now I’m listening to the French electronic duo Justice, and their brand new album. The point is, that I didn’t get stuck on one type or generation of music. As it has evolved, I’ve carried on with it. I listen to My Chemical Romance. I like the angst and driving guitars. Instead of listening to what the radio tells me is popular, though, I am able (considering my vast historical reference and knowledge of good music) to identify what is good whether it be mainstream or not. Music plays a strong role in our children’s lives, which is why it is important that we actually listen.
We need to listen to what they are listening to, even if it hurts. We need to be constantly vigilant, at the same time introducing them to music of our generation and beyond. Expanding their encyclopedia of music. We can’t stop them from listening to modern music, we can only make sure they realize that it doesn’t have to influence their lives. We need to expose them to new music in different genres, good music. Everyone in my house is currently digging on the recent Fitz & the Tantrums album, and the new Black Keys album (probably the best rock album of last year). But we like music here, and have a keen appreciation for it. At the same time, I know my boys have rap on their MP3 players that I think is terrible. It doesn’t make them gangsters. And,yeah, I put it there at their request.
The thing is, there is music that can provide a positive influence as well, songs with meaning. Songs that change lives and elicit emotions. We can’t erase the influence of music altogether; hell, They Might Be Giants changed my life. Through their creative lyrics they taught me to think outside the norm and opened up my creativity and view of the world. How many of you have made mix tapes for someone you liked?
To wit: the influence of music as seen through these two very heartfelt testimonials from two of my loyal Twitter friends:
“Got into punk in my teens gave me a back bone actually got me to start playing guitar. It led to me listening to mostly hardcore when I was 20. I actually started to write music and made a lot of friends in the local scene. I listened to various types of hardcore and I discovered the weirder strains that made me realize that I could listen to anything that moved me. All of this lead to me fully embracing alternative culture and re-embracing my geekiness that I tried to run from when I was younger.” – @joethestampede
“Biggest influence? Tori Amos for musicality and for the no holds barred nature of her lyrics. Songs like Me and a Gun were tremendously important to me for their frankness in talking about horrible things that people do and have done to them. Her songs are like that. Also for founding of RAINN which is an amazing organization. I feel like, for me, music became an outlet. Listening to her sad stuff when I was sad helped me feel my sad and let it go. Same with angry and happy etc etc. So I think she affected my life in that her music was helpful for me both in coping and in moving past my issues in a frank and honest way. I can accept me and all that makes me me. I don’t have to like it, but I got from her music that I can’t change it. Because of that I can realize, now, that I wouldn’t be me without the good and the bad.” – @Menolly07
So in the end, music is influential to us and our children. Their behavior and identity can be shaped by what is pumping through their headphones. And once again, like so many times before, it all comes down to parenting. Are you aware of what they are listening to? How do you help them rise above the influence of what you would consider to be negatively influencing music?