Youth Culture Window

Media Consumption: Part II – Kids Listening to Much More Music

NOTE: This is the second article in a 4-part series based on the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation M2:Media in the Lives of 8-18 Year-Olds. The first article is an overview of the report. This article talks about how much “entertainment media” kids consume each day through music. The third article focuses on print media consumption, and the final article turns our attention to the undisputed heavyweight: the screen.

In 2004, a teenager might have shouted, “Just one more song!” to their parents when mom or dad called them downstairs to dinner. Nowadays, that same kid is more likely to say, “Just one more hourof songs!”

Cause in 2009, that’s about how much more music they’re listening to…daily. 

The Magic of Music
In our last Youth Culture Window article about kids’ consumption of “entertainment media,” as studied and reported by The Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), we promised you a breakdown of various media elements in follow up articles. We thought Part 1 should focus on the fastest growing form of entertainment media: music.

That’s right. Although “TV” retained its top position of “most-consumed media,” the category of “music/audio” gained the most ground between KFF’s 2004 report and their 2009 report. This melodic category saw an increase of 47 minutes every day between the two reports, bringing music/audio’s total consumption to 2 hours and 19 minutes every day.

This category is technically referred to as “music/audio,” because music isn’t the only form of auditory entertainment kids 8-18 take in each day; there are a few minor elements such as “news” or “talk shows.” But, just to put the breakdown into perspective, “non-music audio content” only comprises about 15 minutes each day.

That means more than 2 full hours is dedicated solely to tunes.

Most of the increase in music consumption can be explained by the fact that kids listen to music in a number of ways and in several environments. They employ radios, CD’s, cell phones, computers, car stereos, and more to get their musical fix.

But according to KFF’s report, the biggest supplier of kids’ music comes to them in a relatively new way.

Music To Go
Researchers agree that kids’ dramatic increase in music consumption is largely due to the rampant increase in ownership of mp3 players such as the iPod or Zune. When KKF did their study in 2004, mp3 players were just catching on, and only 18% of kids between the ages of 8 and 18 owned these kinds of mobile devices. Fast-forward to 2009 and 76% of kids owned one.

By the way, a completely separate study concurs with KFF on this point. In Pew’s 2009 Internet & American Life Project – that studied “teens” only – they found that 74% of them owned an iPod or similar mp3 player.

There are several reasons why teens have flocked to this “platform” of music consumption. It’s cheap. Kids no longer have to buy a $17 CD to access the two “good songs” on the album. The vast amount of music piracy makes it even cheaper, unfortunately. It’s also simple; just download and go. Most mp3 player’s interfaces are easy to use.

It’s also private. And this may be the most luring attraction of all. Kids can take their choice of media with them, wherever they go, whenever they want.

Without a doubt, the “privacy” factor helps explain why there is such low parental involvement in kids’ selection of musical media. KFF found that, on average, only 26% of kids said they had rules about what types of music they were allowed to listen to. Unsurprisingly, that number decreases as the age of the child increases. For instance, while 47% of all 8-10 year olds have their music choices monitored by parents, only 27% of 11-14 year olds have their music monitored by parents. A mere 12% of parents of 15-18 year olds weigh in on music choices.

Further, only 10% of all kids claimed to have rules about how much time they can spend listening to music.

It can be difficult to manage something that’s so portable and private. So, let me provide you with a glimpse of what you may be missing on your kids’ iPods.

Music’s Message
Coming in at #7 on Billboard’s Hot 100 this week is a little ditty entitled “Sexy Chick” by David Guetta.

The way that booty movin’, I can’t take no more
Have to stop what I’m doin’ so I can pull her close
I’m trying to find the words to describe this girl
Without being disrespectful
Damn girl
Damn, you’s a sexy chick
A sexy chick
Damn, you’s a sexy chick
A sexy chick

When it comes to avoiding disrespect, he probably should’ve tried harder. And his music video is just as misogynistic as the rest of his lyrics.

At #4 on the chart this week is a real “gem” called “BedRock” by Young Money (featuring Lloyd). This newly formed joint effort includes the likes of Drake and a troublemaker named Lil Wayne. Here’s a portion of their song that’s scorching its way to the top:

Ooh Baby,
I Be Stuck To You,
Like Glue Baby,
Wanna Spend It All On You, Baby,
My Room Is The G Spot,
Call Me Mr. Flintstone,
I Can Make Your Bed Rock
I-I-I I Can Make Your Bed Rock
I-I-I I Can Make Your Bed Rock Girl
I-I-I I Can Make Your Bed Rock
I-I-I I Can Make Your Bed Rock

Just in case you (mistakenly) think this song is about the hit cartoon from pre-historic times, all you need to do is check out the first 12 seconds of the song’s sexed-up music video to learn otherwise. Yep. 12 seconds. (You can view the rest of the song’s lyrics for yourself.)

If that kind of song is ranked #4, you might be wondering what made it to #1. Glad you asked. Ke$ha’s hit “Tik Tok” – playing on radio stations all over the country almost nonstop – has this line in it:

Ain’t got a care in world, but got plenty of beer
Ain’t got no money in my pocket, but I’m already here
Now, the dudes are lining up cause they hear we got swagger
But we kick em to the curb unless they look like Mick Jagger
I’m talking about
Errybody getting crunk, crunk
Boys trying to touch my junk, junk
Gonna smack him if he getting too drunk, drunk
Now, now – we goin’ til they kick us out, out
Or the police shut us down, down

You can watch the music video for yourself, or just read through the lyrics. Either way, you’ll get the irresponsible point.

You Are What You…Listen To?
With songs like these, it’s no wonder why some of today’s music has been labeled as “junk food” by the Boston Public Health Commission. This Massachusetts-based group recently partnered with 14 teenagers and developed the “Sound Relationship Nutrition Label,” a scale that determines how “nutritional” certain songs are.

Jamie Foxx’s “Blame It (On the Alcohol)” and Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” (in the #3 spot THIS WEEK) were among those listed as the most unhealthy.

Fortunately, not all music is unhealthy, or even has an unhealthy effect on kids. After years of hearing the talk about the ill effect immoral music has on kids, Dr. Tobias Greitemeyer from the University of Sussex conducted a study on whether or not positive music – what he calls “pro-social” music – could have a beneficial result in the lives of teens.

His results should inspire hope…and a call to action…in the lives of parents.

One group of students listened to “pro-social” music while another group listened to more neutral and/or meaningless music. Immediately after listening to the songs, both groups of kids were then drawn into a situation requiring their help, when researchers “accidentally” knocked over a cup of pencils and paused to see what the teenagers would do.

Students who listened to pro-social music, like “Help!” by the Fab Four or “Heal the World” by Michael Jackson, were quicker to respond, and picked up almost five times as many pencils as those in the other group. Even Greitemeyer was surprised at the test’s results. “It’s a very consistent effect. I did not expect it would be so significant.”

Anybody with half a brain knows that “what kids listen to” has an influence on “how they behave.” That was one of the reasons why we launched, a website where teenagers can download as many 10 minute long Bible studies they want…for free! Our A Lil Bit podcasts give teenagers “a little bit of Scripture to get them through the day.”

However, 10 minutes of Bible study doesn’t hold a candle to 2 hours and 19 minutes of musical media, especially if that music is “unhealthy.” Somebody has to help kids draw a line in the sand…and bury some of their music in it at the same time. 

Music Manager
Every single one of the “artists” who produces the contaminating music our kids are listening to has a manager. Parents and youth workers must ensure that every single one of our kids has a manager, as well.

No “ifs, ands, or buts” about it, we absolutely must play a stronger role in helping kids make healthy music choices, especially in the midst of such poisonous options. When researchers discover that far less than half of all kids have any parental influence over their music, we must commit to doing better. Much better.

Besides helping kids select their music, we also need to help them strike a balance which allows them to enjoy music, rather than be consumed by it. Music isn’t necessarily the bad guy, but it can be another distraction in the growing line of distractions, that keeps parents and teens from experiencing quality time together. Kids won’t unplug their headphones on their own volition; that we know. In fact, if we do nothing about it, music (and other media) will continue to take more and more time from our kids, leaving less time for parents and youth workers to make an impact.

Make sure you have “unplugged” time with your teenagers, daily. Ask them to take out the earbuds dangling from the side of their heads…both of them. Make it a goal to get undivided, one-on-one time with your kids each and every day. It’ll make a huge difference in their lives.

When it comes to parenting kids and giving them direction in life, we can do the job, or we can farm it out to the likes of Lady Gaga and Beyoncé.

Nah. I don’t like the “sound” of that.

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David R. Smith

David R. Smith is the author of several books including Christianity... It's Like This and speaks to parents and leaders across the U.S. David is a 15-year youth ministry veteran, now a senior pastor, who specializes in sharing the gospel, and equipping others do the same. David provides free resources to anyone who works with teenagers on his website, David resides with his wife and son in Tampa, Florida.

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