How Music Affects Children

I recently came across a fantastic BBC Magazine article called “A Point of View: Why it’s time to turn the music off“. This editorial, written by writer and philosopher Roger Scruton, bemoans the fact that we as a society have used and abused music to the point of idolatry. Although Mr. Scruton did not specifically use the word idolatry in his piece, he did say that “pop pollution has an effect on musical appreciation comparable to pornography on sex – all that is beautiful, special and full of love is replaced by a grinding mechanism”. Some might scoff at this generalization. It is true that many types of music do exist that are “beautiful, special, and full of love” but the thrust of the article is that we are assailed by the vulgar, the dirty, and the just plain noisy on a daily basis in society-at-large. My personal concern is in regard to how music affects children and what the detrimental effects are in regard to the cultural obsession in our pop music with the lewd and the vulgar.

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Rather than focusing on how we got here or how we can fix the problem, I would like to talk about why it is so important that society recognize the harm that is done through the relentless casual exposure to dirty music, for music affects children on so many levels.

Let’s first talk about language. Having two kids of my own (one of whom is now an extremely impressionable toddler), it is very clear to me that we are all products of our environment. My oldest son literally repeats EVERYTHING I say – or at least he tries to. Even the gestures my wife and I make when we speak on the phone are now an imitation game. In short, he is modeling his behavior off of what we do. It does not take rocket science to see that our entire way of being and acting is modeled by the dominant forces around us.

While it is true that a child’s first influences will come from the home, we are all also surrounded by a prevailing culture that is a reflection of the soul of our country at large. The culture is influenced by its history, its music, current events, shared experiences of its people, and so many other factors that ultimately shape the day-to-day life of each countryman. It is my belief that the prevailing art and music of a culture are a reflection of the items above.

So in regards to the crux of Mr. Scruton’s premise, which is that music has lost its value in favor of the banal, one must examine the question of what the mainstream promulgation of such a music does to our children. Many of us are taught from a young age that “if Johnny jumps off a cliff, it does not mean that we need to do the same”. Yet, when it comes to music, the influences are far more subtle. For instance, let’s say that your impressionable 10 year old daughter comes home from school singing the lyrics and gyrating to an extremely catchy Lady Gaga song – Let’s say “Do What You Want” – For those who do not know, the song’s theme is “Do what you want with my body”. The song also states “You can’t have my heart and you won’t use my mind but do what you want (with my body)”.

You then express disbelief to your now seemingly sexy-sounding little brown-eyed girl and, perhaps, overreact and say “You cannot listen to this music anymore”. Your daughter who then retorts “It’s just a song! Don’t you realize that?” may then storm out the room and not really understand that she is promoting the objectification of women since, after all, her friends are not objects, right? Or, she might even say “I don’t listen to the lyrics – just the beat!” The hypnotic beat drums the messages into the head – subtly but surely. Indeed, music affects children and adults deeply.

And that, my friends, is how it begins. Since the dawn of time, cultures have been subject to negative influences. Teens and pre-teens have, too, listened to and been exposed to these influences and many who are now adults will assert that “they came out just fine” after a phase.

Many are not incorrect, of course. There certainly are families that are morally overbearing (and as a result, such “phases” seem necessary, out of rebellion). Yet, far too many families lack the stable corrective parents who are able to explain why bad messages such as the objectification of women is not a good thing. Unfortunately, our society has not come a very long way since the 1960’s in this regard. We talk and debate about the concepts of equal pay and reproductive rights but none of this will ever mean anything if men do not learn to really love a woman in a way that is about commitment and shared dreams and desires. This supports my own personal belief that music doesn’t just affect culture – it reflects it.

When filthy music penetrates the minds of our sons and daughters, it then suddenly gives them the permission to behave inappropriately. Without the loving correction from an intuitive and mindful parent (who, incidentally, also knows how not to overreact), these children will be subject to the influences of the loudest voices around them – whether it is Lady Gaga, their “friends”, or many of the television one-night-wonders who give the false impression of true fulfillment on shows like American Idol.

So what is one to do? The answer, in my opinion, lies not in creating a culture war for it is unfortunately obvious that we are outnumbered. We do not wish to impose our ideas and values on others, for it is entirely possible to become self-righteous and shove our own culture down the throats of children (to which they will rebel). Rather, the answer, in my opinion, is for artists and musicians to keep creating genuinely. We as a society crave ingenuity and we need more real people with real stories. The status quo cannot and will not last forever. We as Americans yearn for a spiritual and cultural awakening that will spread like wildfire when we wake up from our slumber and learn again how to communicate with true beauty.

Daniel Broniatowski is the founder of Music Affects Culture, a Boston-based initiative run by Maestro Musicians, LLC, to transform society through quality music. We believe that our children deserve better than what popular culture is serving them and that as a big American family, societal transformation begins one child at a time. Find out more how music affects children at www.musicaffectsculture.com.