Family arguments over teenagers' music-listening choices are as old as disagreements over who washes the dishes or takes out the trash. Parents' musical tastes are often very different from those of their teenage children; however, music has the potential to affect emotions. As with adults, music can help teenagers identify, process and express their emotions.
For teenagers, music frequently provides a means of identifying or labeling certain emotions. In music with lyrics, teenagers may identify with expressed emotions of happiness and sadness, or with sociological or political themes. For teenagers struggling with issues surrounding adolescence, sexuality, sexual orientation, loneliness or depression, identifying these emotions in music can be extremely helpful. This is especially true when a teenager is unable to discuss these issues and emotions with family, friends or peers as identification of similar themes in music can make her feel less alone. When teenagers use music as a mood-modifier, it can be used to reinforce and perpetuate negative emotions as well as positive emotions.
Involvement with music — whether as a listener, creator or performer — can be extremely cathartic. Singer-songwriters commonly use lyric writing as a means of emotional catharsis. In a St. Petersburg Times article, Amy Lee of the band Evanescence describes music as her therapy. Whether a teenager is writing music, identifying with lyrical and musical themes, or dancing wildly at a live show, the cathartic experience provides a channel for expressing and dealing with a wide range of emotions.
Repressing or "bottling up" emotions is often unhealthy, and music allows a channel for teenagers to express emotions through listening to or playing music. Teenagers who write their own music or lyrics are able to express themselves, perhaps with a directness that would be uncomfortable in a non-musical conversation. Bottling up of emotions is linked to an increased incidence of panic attacks, according to a November 2004 report in the journal "Behavior Research and Therapy." 1
Group Identification and Support
Listening to a certain type, or types, of music can give teenagers access to a peer group of other teenage listeners. Teenage music scenes range from straight-edge punk cliques to prog-rock aficionados and hip-hop heads. A shared love of music gives those in the group a common interest and a basis for friendship, which has many potential emotional benefits. Live music events that allow those younger than 21 to attend give teenagers a safe and supervised social activity that does not involve alcohol. However, identification with a music-affiliated group can have a negative effect on teenagers' emotions too. Certain music scenes and sub-scenes are associated with violence, misogyny or occasionally gang culture. Particularly for teenage girls, misogynistic music and its associated scenes can reduce self-confidence and empowerment.
Jae Allen has been a writer since 1999, with articles published in "The Hub," "Innocent Words" and "Rhythm." She has worked as a medical writer, paralegal, veterinary assistant, stage manager, session musician, ghostwriter and university professor. Allen specializes in travel, health/fitness, animals and other topics.
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