Music Interests Can Provide Insight Into Teen’s Emotional State

By Jeff Abell

When you play your favorite song, how does it make you feel? Music has the power to trigger vivid memories and transport us to a different time. We know that music evokes strong emotions for adults, and the same is true for young people.

For parents and youth workers, one way to build relationships with our youth is to ask questions and have conversations about what interests them. Often adults worry about whether the music young people listen to is age-appropriate. We ask ourselves if the lyrics are harmful to the youth’s emotional well-being. However, maybe we shouldn’t just be asking if the lyrics are suitable or not, but rather why the youth connects with the song.

According to an article from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP News), Impact of Music, Music Lyrics, and Music Videos on Children and Youth, youth often use music as more than just a tool for expression. Music can provide a real insight into what the adolescent is going through.

“Music provides entertainment and distraction from problems and serves as a way to relieve tension and boredom. Some studies have reported that adolescents use popular music to deal with loneliness and to take control of their emotional status or mood. Music also can provide a background for romance and serve as the basis for establishing relationships in diverse settings. Adolescents use music in their process of identity formation, and their music preference provides them a means to achieve group identity and integration into the youth culture. Some authors have suggested that popular music provides adolescents with the means to resolve unconscious conflicts related to their particular developmental stage and that their music preference might reflect the level of turmoil of this stage.”

If the music is inappropriate or the lyrics are upsetting to the adult, ask the adolescent why they like the particular song. Explain to them why you might be uncomfortable with a certain song, while listening to their reasoning for connecting with it. For some kids, a certain song might be on repeat because they simply like the beat. Others might find a deeper meaning in a particular song’s lyrics. They might enjoy the song because the artist wrote about a situation that they are going through.

Just like adults, youth find connections through music and relate to the artist’s stories. By opening the door for a conversation about the music, adults show they aren’t judging the youth, just trying to better understand what they are going through.

Take your child to a concert by their favorite artist, let them choose the music on the car ride to school, or start a conversation about a song or artist you know they enjoy. By showing interest in their music selections, you validate their choices and allow them to express their emotions with you through their music choices.

Jeff Abell is the Teen Advisory Council Program Coordinator at Youth Resources.