How Rock Music Affects Teens

Kevin Ott
girl with headphones

Scientific research has shown music activates more portions of the brain than any other human activity. It is no wonder rock music has such a powerful effect on teenagers. But is that effect positive or negative? The answer is a complicated mix of both, and it depends largely on how the music is used.

Mental Effects of Rock Music

Rock music can either hinder or enhance a student's mental performance, especially in the area of academic study. A variety of research shows it depends on the context.

Concentration and Studying for School

According to a study by Imperial College London, male participants who listened to rock music while performing various tasks had more difficulty staying concentrated. A University of Toronto study confirmed this for teenagers of any gender: listening to fast, loud music hinders the teenager's ability to study, especially in reading comprehension.

Creativity

While rock music might not help some students while they're studying, other research from the University of Toronto shows when a young person listens to their favorite rock music before studying followed by studying in silence, it not only increases the brain's performance, but it also enhances creativity.

In the study, Professor Glenn Schellenberg debunked the popular Mozart theory, which claims listening only to Mozart will help students perform better. The study showed that when a student listens to their favorite genre of music before studying, no matter which genre it is as long as it's something they like strongly and are already familiar with, their creativity and performance is boosted.

Improved Engagement in the Classroom

school of rock

Rock music has become a useful tool for teachers in the classroom. One educator, in an article in Edutopia.org described how, in the course of her career, she has seen teachers:

  • Use the song "Elbow Room" from Schoolhouse Rock to grab the attention of students and introduce them to the concept of exploration in history
  • Play loud, dramatic, attention-grabbing music--usually a song related to the class concepts for that day--at the beginning of class as students walk in
  • Have students analyze the lyrics of rock song Radioactive by Imagine Dragons to reinforce lessons about poetry

Rock music is effective because its high energy can easily hold a teenager's attention, and its memorable "hooks"--i.e. well-crafted patterns of motifs and riffs that stick in the head--help students memorize concepts when the lessons are tied to rock songs.

Emotional Effects of Rock Music

The emotional influence of music can be the most complicated area to discern because teenagers are already dealing with an overload of emotions. Throwing rock music into the mix can raise questions in a parent's mind, especially if the lyrics fixate on violent themes.

Do Violent Lyrics Inspire Violent Acts?

The American Academy of Pediatrics published an exhaustive report on the effect of media violence on teenagers and children, including violent lyrics in music, and the conclusion was sobering: "The strength of the association between media violence and aggressive behavior found in meta-analyses...is nearly as strong as the association between cigarette smoking and lung cancer."

The study concluded in its abstract that violent lyrics and media violence in general can pose a significant risk to the mental and emotional health of teenagers. This does not mean, of course, that every teenager who listens to violent lyrics will become violent. It just means parents must use discernment and not treat violent lyrics lightly.

TeenZeen.org, a drug rehab resource site for teens and parents, advises the following: "Teens who become more agitated or try to carry out violent acts after listening to this type of music should avoid it."

Suicide and Depression: Rock Music's Effect on Depressed Teenagers

Besides violence, the other dark side of rock music can be in the area of depression. According to a University of Melbourne study by researcher Dr. Katrina McFerran, rock music--particularly the darker ends of the genre (i.e. heavy metal, dark-themed emo or hard rock)--can reinforce negative emotions in young people who struggle with depression.

As McFerran observes: "Most young people listen to a range of music in positive ways ... but young people at risk of depression are more likely to be listening to music, particularly heavy metal music, in a negative way."

The bottom line is this: if your student is predisposed to depression, their music might be amplifying their emotional problems.

Rock Music as a Mood Regulation Tool

Despite the risks of certain types of rock music amplifying negative emotions or thinking patterns, there is a bright side to this genre of music. Rock music has been shown to be an effective mood regulating tool for teens when it is used in a healthy way.

A study by Dara Greenwood (University of Michigan) and Chris Long (Ouachita Baptist University in Arkansas) showed convincingly that mood regulation is more important for teenagers than it is for pre-teens or adults. Their study showed how music, including rock music, can function as a constructive tool teens use to manage an overwhelming emotional landscape.

Physical Effects of Rock Music

It's easy to focus on the mental and emotional aspects and completely forget about the physical side of things. Like the other categories, there is a mix of good and bad effects.

hearing loss

Hearing Loss Among Teens Has Gotten Worse

The American Osteopathic Association has published startling data on this problem, indicating "1 in 5 teens has some form of hearing loss." This rate is about 30 percent higher from earlier decades. The Association notes this may be due to the increased rate of use of headphones.

Rock music tends to be the loudest of the music genres and likely a big contributor to increased hearing loss among teens. As noted by Medline Plus, rock concerts are typically twice as loud as the normal decibels of daily life. It's not surprising, then, that loud rock music on headphones is contributing to hearing loss.

Rock Music as an Exercise Booster for Teens

Rock music is not all bad for physical health, however. For example:

  • One scientific study found, in their study's age range including teenagers, fast-tempo music like rock improved the performance of cyclists during their workouts.
  • Another study demonstrated how a strong rhythmic beat, such as rock music, can help teenagers (and adults) overcome their body's natural inclination to expend as little energy as possible during exercise. In other words, music can help a teenager's brain override their body's natural physical laziness during workouts.
  • In yet another study, when participants listened to their favorite workout albums, including fast-paced rock music, their workout stamina increased.

Spiritual Effects of Rock Music

Depending on your worldview, you might fit this category in with the emotional or mental aspect of a teenager's listening experience. Regardless, the spiritual angle is relevant because rock music, especially heavy metal, tends to fixate on the spiritual realm, particularly the darker aspects of the occult.

Negative Occultic Themes

Rock music with dark occultic themes has been documented to intensify suicidal thought patterns in teenagers and even become a direct catalyst to suicide. If your teenager struggles with depression, for example, allowing him or her to saturate their music library with dark-themed heavy metal might not be wise for their spiritual health.

Examples of Rock Music's Positive Spiritual Influence

However, it would be unfair to rock music to slap a broad label of "darkness" across it. In fact, there are quite a few well-known, popular rock bands who've made a reputation of focusing on positive spiritual and emotional themes without being overly preachy.

Some of these popular, positive-focused rock bands include:

  • Skillet
  • Switchfoot
  • Lifehouse
  • P. O. D.
  • U2
  • Foster the People

Skillet and P. O. D. have the heaviest sound on this list, probably closer to metal--especially Skillet--yet despite the chugging guitars, blistering riffs, and the occasional guttural scream, the outlook of their lyrics is filled with hope and a metal-infused determination to find joy in life, even during dark times.

Never Underestimate the Power of Music

Despite the debate, there's one thing that's certain: music is very influential in a person's life, especially a young person trying to navigate their most impressionable years. The answer, however, is not to lock the teenager in Rapunzel's tower and throw away the key, especially because rock music has been proven to have many positive benefits for teens if it is used properly. The trick is to know your teenager well, assess him or her on a case-by-case basis, and, whenever possible, use music's powerful influence for good in your child's life.

How Rock Music Affects Teens