Listening to teens, for a change


Photo by Flickr user Mavis.

“Because teenage years are one of the most stressful times in a person’s life, having the ability to escape with the aid of music is extremely important to myself as well as many other teens,” a young writer named Alexa wrote recently at the Radical Parenting blog. “There are various genres to fit any taste and mood you are feeling and songs that can relate to nearly anything you are going through. Lyrics can often resonate with a person’s situation and even help them find their identity.”

For decades, a segment of the adult, “responsible” world has railed against heavy-metal music. This genre is one of the most suspect: some people think it’s capable of making teens commit violence against themselves or others, or of leading teens into evil. By contrast, author Jeffrey Jensen Arnett found that metal soothes some teens’ souls, particularly those with a high need for intensity. Unlike many adults, Arnett actually asked teens why they like the music so much, and then he listened to their answers.

And yet, teen metal fans still feel like their favorite music is misunderstood, so the war isn’t over yet. Alisa Boswell, a young New Mexico woman, recently wrote a piece for the Portales News-Tribune asking people to give heavy metal a chance:

There is a very distinct passion and creativity to heavy metal music that I am admiring more each time I hear it. And let’s face it, whether you like it or not, you can’t beat the instrumentals in heavy metal. You don’t get more variety than that.

If you have an appreciation for music but don’t care too much for metal, I highly recommend giving it a chance. If you appreciate music, you will appreciate heavy metal instrumentals and lyrics (if maybe not the screaming).

Another teen girl recently wrote to teen advice columnist Dr. Robert Wallace to convince him metal isn’t so bad:

Their lyrics are very deep; it’s a definite form of poetry. Such issues as conformity and human biases are explored, and the songs are sung with passion, not merely blind anger. In my friend’s valedictory speech, he actually quoted from a heavy metal song. (His speech was about thinking for yourself rather than letting others do it for you.) It was an excellent speech and the quote fit perfectly; no one would have been able to guess that his “modern poet” was, in fact, Metallica.

It’s easy to believe that teens are young and so malleable that the wrong message can lead them astray. The teens I’ve talked to are anything but; they know what they need psychologically, and they know what they can and can’t handle. And exploring those boundaries is important work. Sure, a parental guiding hand now and then doesn’t hurt. But kids know what they’re doing.

A question for readers today: Did your parents question the content of your favorite teen music? What did they say? How did you respond to that? Do you think, in hindsight, that you were right — or were they right?

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7 responses to “Listening to teens, for a change

  1. My parent never cared what I did or was exposed to. Not even when I was bringing home the entire collection of John waters films to watch over and over again. YAY parental neglect! 🙂

    I listened to some pretty depressing and/or violent music when I was a kid. I realize this more and more as I look back. Somehow I turned out to be one of the most non-violent people you could ever meet. These days it pains me to watch some of John Water’s scenes. I do not kill bugs, when I can avoid it.

    Sorry I could not answer you question exactly, but I figured you might like some input from someone who turned out alright even though her parent didn’t protect her from the evil world of art.

    • Thanks, Ellen. My parents said a few disparaging things about my taste in music (primarily when I got into bands like Metallica and Fields of the Nephilim) but never questioned it or intervened. I was definitely one of those kids who needed intense music (and still am, sometimes), but am not violent. I just think this music gives people a place to store certain feelings that might otherwise get bottled up — and let out at the wrong time.

  2. I was into “alternative” music in high school (the late eighties). Had purple hair, combat boots, black clothes, the whole nine yards. My dad was a single parent and he was involved, but the music didn’t bother him. He was more interested in my being kind to other people – he didn’t care that I was a Minor Threat fan. Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t want to listen to it, and he wished I listened to my music at a drastically lowered volume, but he never got bent out of shape about the content of my favorite music.

  3. My mother occasionally expressed some concern about the darkness in some music and movies, going so far on one occasion as to forbid me from once again renting for the umpteen thousandth time “A Clockwork Orange” and “Sid and Nancy.”
    My father only said once, pretty mildly, that he couldn’t really imagine singing any of my music around a campfire years from now. After which my friend and I proceeded to regale him with “campfire” versions of The Smiths, The Cure and Jane’s Addiction for the rest of the car ride.
    Not metal, but there you go. =)

  4. I had purple hair (shaved on one side) and wore combat boots in the South in the 80s. However, I mostly listened to Pink Floyd, The Beatles, The Grateful Dead, and The Doors. My parents never really interfered with any choice as to how I presented myself or what I listed to or watched. My dad complained about Pink Floyd because it was “too mopey”.

  5. My parents were very involved in music and had wide-ranging tastes, so they gave everything a listen. Some of it they liked (the Doors, Steely Dan), some of it they disliked, and some of it they disagree about. But they never forbade anything, and there were a lot of things we agreed on (we would always go to jazz concerts together, though even there we agreed about some musicians and not about others).

    Frankly, the only thing my father would have found unbearable was if I’d been an opera fan. He hated opera.

    (We did agree a lot on movies, too, a lot more than on music, which helped.)

    They were also mature enough to know that every generation of children takes up art that their parents don’t like, and their own choices at that age had dismayed their parents as well.

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