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Violence in Media

My teen's music has really violent lyrics. Should I worry about the messages he's hearing?

Music is tricky because it's at the center of kids' lives socially and culturally. It can help quieter kids reveal things they normally can't, and it can express emotions turbulent adolescents may not be able to voice. Still, a lot of music features racy or violent lyrics and can glorify drinking, drug use, or violent behavior. Studies indicate that violent lyrics can trigger antisocial behavior and negatively impact at-risk or vulnerable kids.

When your teens want to listen to music with iffy lyrics, there's not a lot you can do to stop them, given the wide availability of even explicit-language music and videos online and through music-streaming services. The best you can do is stay involved in what they're listening to -- even if it hurts your ears. Here are some ideas for talking about violent music lyrics.

  • Share their music. Listening to violent lyrics in isolation is risky, and kids often have earbuds chronically stuck in their ears. Get your kids to share their music, and listen together. Not only will you get a better idea of what they're being exposed to, but you may also improve your relationship with them. When you show interest in their worlds, they might be more open to hearing your opinions.
  • Share the edgy stuff from when you were growing up. Go on a trip down memory lane and let them listen to some of the stuff your parents didn't approve of. Music is often a product of its culture, and your music may give you some context for discussing their music and its role in their lives.
  • Discuss music messages. If you don't like a message, try to open a discussion with your child without being too judgmental -- nothing will make a kid defensive faster than a judgmental parent. It's important that children can challenge what they hear in a song, but they won't be likely to do so if they think you hate all their music.
  • Ask questions. Don't let music just wash over your kids. Instead, teach them to be critical of music's messages.  
  • Help them decode what they hear. Music with explicit content is labeled online, but it's still available. When songs use the "N" word, for example, discuss the word's historical and cultural associations and explain why it's derogatory. Sometimes kids need things spelled out.