Teaching Kids that Pop Music is Make Believe

February 26, 2020

If your kids are listening to popular music—and they probably are—they most likely are learning about things they shouldn’t.    

According to new research in Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, more than half of all popular music contains sexual references: sexual identity, the objectification of women, permissive and risky sexual behaviors and sexual and gender violence.

Current education standards do not include popular music media literacy, so unless children are prepared at home, they are unprepared for the content they are taking in, according to the research, “Popular Music Media Literacy: Recommendations for the Education Curriculum.”

Nearly 60 percent of 8-year-olds and 80 percent of teen-agers listen to music daily, according to the article, citing existing research.  Children spend two hours or more each day listening to music, and adolescents spent about four hours each week watching music videos. The article was written Chrysalis L. Wright, Francesca Dillman Carpentier, Lesley-Ann Ey, Cougar Hall, K. Megan Hopper and Wayne Warburton

Hip hop, rap, R&B, soul and pop music tend to contain the highest levels of sexual content, and this content can impact children’s identity and gender role development as well as gender ideals and sex-role stereotypes.

“Young children may experience premature sexualization … and may adopt an adult persona in an attempt to emulate popular music artists’ portrayed image,” the article states.  Music videos also can lead to feelings of being less attractive as well as more sexually permissive attitudes and behaviors among adolescent girls and young women.

If the schools are educating children and young people about music, it’s happening “at an age far later than children’s engagement with contemporary media,” the authors state.  What media literacy there is within the general curriculum is “sparse” and tends to focus not on music but on newspapers, television advertising, video games, fake news and social media.

The authors recommend students learn about media and its influence on personal development beginning in primary school, and that this education should include topics that may be controversial such as personal development and gender identity. 

Parents and caregivers should be educated as well, and children also should be taught the difference between fantasy and reality and celebrity stage persona vs. real-life persona.

“The health and well-being of young people should be a collective concern for all, including those who make a livelihood in the music industry,” the authors state.