RAND researchers surveyed 1,461 adolescents ages 12 to 17, asking about their sexual behavior and how often they listened to music by various artists. From the Rand Corporation's news release:
The study found that the more time adolescents spend listening to music with sexually degrading lyrics, the more likely they are to initiate intercourse and other sexual activities. This holds true for boys and girls as well as for whites and nonwhites, even after accounting for a wide range of other personal and social factors associated with adolescent sexual behavior.
Researchers found that only sexually degrading lyrics -- many quite graphic and containing numerous obscenities -- are related to changes in adolescents' sexual behavior. These lyrics depict men as sexually insatiable, women as sexual objects, and sexual intercourse as inconsequential. Other songs about sex do not appear to influence youth the same way.
As I read the results of the study, I realized that the Rand people were vindicating Martin Luther, who ruminated on the connection between music and behavior centuries ago:
For whether you wish to comfort the sad, terrify the happy, encourage the despairing, humble the proud, calm the passionate, or appease those full of hate -- and who could number all these masters of the human heart, namely, the emotions, inclinations, and affections that impel men to evil or good? -- what more effective means than music could you find?
Here's a question for discussion around the family dinner table or in youth group. What makes a song "Christian?" Is it Christian music if it's created and/or performed by a follower of Jesus? Or do the lyrics alone determine if music is Christian? What about the rhythms and melodies of the song, regardless of lyrics? Read the following statements and decide which one of them, if any, you might endorse:
• We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all music was created equal, that no instrument or style of music is in itself evil -- that the diversity of musical expression which flows forth from man is but one evidence of the boundless creativity of our Heavenly Father (The Christian Rocker's Creed, CCM Magazine).
• Music directly represents the passions or states of the soul -- gentleness, anger, courage, temperance ... If a person habitually listens to the kind of music that rouses ignoble passions, his whole character will be shaped to an ignoble form. In short, if one listens to the wrong kind of music he will become the wrong kind of person; but conversely, if he listens to the right kind of music he will tend to become the right kind of person (Aristotle).
• You cannot put the gospel to just any harmony, any beat, any rhythm. The more Christians try and be like the world, the further they will go from the true spirit of the gospel (Musician Darko Velichkovski).
We can also review how singing and music is described in the Bible (see Judges 5:3, 2 Chronicles 7:6, Psalm 27:6, Psalm 47:7, Psalm 68:25, Psalm 81:1, Psalm 87:7, Psalm 89:1, Psalm 98:5, Psalm 108:1, Psalm 144:9, Psalm 147:7, and Ephesians 5:19). What do these verses reveal about why God created music? You might want to negotiate and compose a brief vision statement about your own or your family's use and enjoyment of music.
Note: "Exposure to Degrading Versus Non-Degrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior among Youth" was published in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.
Here are some more resources to help you travel with your kids in the realm of music. Blog entries are cross-posted on my weblog about parenting and pop culture, and I invite your comments and responses there.
DISCUSS: What are your thoughts on the influence of music on kids? Relatively harmless or extremely influential?
Mitali Perkins is a freelance writer who has lived in Bangladesh, Thailand, India, Great Britain, Mexico, Ghana, Cameroon, and Austria, and has traveled extensively throughout Asia. Her fiction for youth includes Monsoon Summer, and her articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Christian Parenting Today, Discipleship Journal, Prism, U.S. Catholic, Campus Life, and Presbyterians Today. Visit her weblog at http://ambassadorfamilies.blogspot.com/ and post your comments there.