young person at window listening on headphonesAccording to Common Sense Media, 73% of girls and 59% of boys ages 8 to 18 listen to music. Music is often associated with other screen media tasks, and many youth multitask by listening to music while doing other activities.

Risks

Very few studies have examined the effects of music on children’s behaviors. However, we do have research about the following concerns:

  • Influence of Music on Behavior and Attitude
    A lot of research has been conducted on how music (whether the genre, lyrics, or content of music videos) influences the behaviors and attitudes of youth. Some research indicates a link between music preference and substance use since youth are likely to be exposed to tobacco, illegal drug and alcohol use through music. Today music is also more likely to contain sexual content, and some research has shown a link between music exposure and increased sexual behavior. Music preference may also indicate that a teen is struggling with deeper emotional issues, as music is often used by youth as a coping mechanism.
  • Volume
    Mp3 players, mobile phones, earbuds and headphones give users the ability to take their favorite tunes everywhere they go. Youth tend to listen to music at high levels and without using the noise limiting feature built-in to many of these devices. Since music-induced hearing loss is not always immediate, teens often do not take the problem of hearing loss seriously.
  • Distraction
    Distracted walking is a huge concern for youth. The Safe Kids Coalition observed teenagers crossing the street, and found that 39% of those that appeared distracted were wearing headphones. Additional research has shown that the use of headphones contributed to 116 deaths or injuries from motor vehicles or trains (mostly to individuals under the age of 30) between 2004-2011.

Benefits

Benefits to listening to music include:

  • Mood Regulation
    Youth can listen to music to manage their moods. Whether a child is feeling a negative emotion, such as anxiety, sadness, anger, or loneliness, or a more positive emotion, such as feeling happy, loved or excited, music has the potential to distract and encourage introspective thinking. Sad music may even be pleasurable.
  • Identity and Socialization
    Music can play both an internal and external role in a young person’s life. Youth may listen to music as a way of helping them form their own identities, but also as a way to seek out new friends with similar interests.
  • Concentration
    Some research has found that when a child listens to music they enjoy, their cognitive abilities, such as their ability to concentrate, improves. Other research has found that while music may not directly increase a child’s cognitive abilities, it doesn’t negatively impact them, and in fact can be a motivating factor in learning.

Healthy Use

To help your child use music safely, CMCH recommends that you consider the following tips:

  • Find out what kind of music your children like to listen to when they are feeling happy or sad. Hearing them play music on their own can alert you to how they might be feeling.
  • Review the lyrics to your child’s favorite songs. Lyrics sites such as Lyrics.com will allow you to understand the content of the music, and decide whether it is appropriate for your child. Many youth also consume music when they watch music videos, so watch along with your child to understand the types of messages that are portrayed.
  • If you are uncomfortable with any of the lyrics, consider purchasing the edited or clean version of a song (if one exists), as opposed to the explicit version. Explicit songs will often have a Parental Advisory label, indicating that the lyrics contain “strong language, depictions of violence, sex or substance abuse.”
  • Help your children become media literate by talking about the messages contained in the lyrics of songs. For instance, talk about how women are being portrayed. Ask them to think about the kinds of bodies they hear described, the way that women are supposed to act according to the song, and how these lyrics make them feel.
  • Actively engage your children when they are listening to music by making audio or video playlists with them to learn about what they like. This shared activity gives youth an opportunity to teach their parents about their interests and their technological skills. Take the opportunity to engage in a conversation about the lyrics and artists, encouraging critical thinking in your children.
  • Encourage your children to keep the volume turned down on their personal music devices and to limit overall exposure to loud music. Permanent hearing damage is possible if children routinely listen to loud music. Recommend earplugs at loud concerts.

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