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Do Bad Lyrics Really Affect Teenagers?

It started with an anonymous 14 year old girl in a chat room talking about chart topping songs when her friend revealed the meaning behind a song’s questionable lyrics. Her response? “i love this song, and i dont really care what the lyrics mean :P”

Is this the way most kids think?

That’s the question we were trying to answer when we polled users of The Source for Youth Ministry in our recent “What Do Your Kids Really Think?” survey in Jonathan’s blog. We can assume (fairly safely) that lots of unchurched teens listen to music that has questionable-to-outright negative and harmful lyrics. But what about the kids sitting in our Wednesday night Bible studies? Are they listening to this stuff? Do they care about the content of these songs?

We asked youth workers across the nation to administer a very short poll to students that attend their church programs. Over the past few weeks, we have received data from youth ministries representing hundreds of teens.

Below are the six questions we asked, and our “churched” students’ responses to them.

  1. Do you think that parents and youth workers should stay out of your music, turn a deaf ear, and hope that lyrics don’t affect you? (53% said “YES, stay out!”)
  2. Do you think that the lyrics affect you? (55% admitted the lyrics affect them.)
  3. If parents or youth workers discover that a song is vile or degrading, should they explain it to you and warn you about it? (78% said adults should warn them.)
  4. How many of you would still listen to the music even if you knew the lyrics were bad? (73% confessed they would still listen to the music, regardless of content.)
  5. Should parents draw a line and enforce rules of what you can and can’t listen to? (Less than half, 43% of our kids, said parents should draw a line.)
  6. What should that line be? Or, what criteria should they use? (This answer brought in a cornucopia of responses. The largest response centered around foul language and sexual content being the deciding factors.)

Thanks for helping us out with this, even though it’s not all good news. (Remember, these are our churched kids!) I usually leave statistical interpretation to people far more intelligent than me, but I can’t help but point out a few observations from this survey.

First, over half of the students admitted that music has an effect on them, good or bad (question 2). And they’re right. Jonathan provided some stats to back this up in another recent blog. I was comforted that at least a slight majority of our church kids are aware of the influence music can have on their lives.

Secondly, while just over half of the kids polled said adults should stay out of their music (question 1), over three quarters of the same kids said it would be OK for adults to weigh in on musical choices (question 3). I think this means that kids want to believe they’re in the “driver’s seat” when it comes to musical preferences, but it’s OK with them for adults to “ride shotgun” sometimes.

Finally, I think all of us realize that question 4 really gets down to the truth of the matter. We asked, “How many of you would still listen to the music even if you knew the lyrics were bad?” And 73% said they would. A majority of these kids already admitted that the lyrics affect them, but that doesn’t stop them. In other words, temporary pleasure wins over what they know to be true.

So, how does this information impact our role as youth leaders? I think there are a few things youth leaders can do that will bring this conversation to the forefront of teens’ thinking. If your kids are like those polled, they will admit the lyrics affect them, but will still want to make their own decisions about music. So…

  1. Try this simple experiment. Familiarize yourself with a few of the top 10 songs from’s “Hot 100” or iTunes (enough that you can quote a portion of each song’s lyrics). When you’re with your kids the next time, play “Finish the Lyrics.” Start into one of the choruses and then see if they can finish the lyrics. Chances are good that they will be able to loudly and confidently sing along. Then say, “Most teenagers say that they don’t listen to the lyrics. I guess we can see that this is not the case.” Then, share some of other lyrics of the songs they just sang. Usually the top songs will have some racy or questionable lyrics.
  2. Share some of the research linked above with students and parents. For example: In 2007, The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revealed that “teens who listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse…as teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music.”
  3. Give kids an opportunity to discuss this with you. Use the resources that we provide for on our web site. We provide numerous “ready-made” discussions on the topic. Our MOVIE CLIP DISCUSSIONS page has a great one using a clip from the third Lord of the Rings film, and one from 24… but also check out some Object Lessons like the one on Purity, the “Special Brownies” one, etc. Good discussion material.

You and I know that music affects us all, even though its influence is often terribly underestimated by teens today. Long before our current struggles with music, Shakespeare wrote, “Music oft hath such a charm to make bad good, and good provoke to harm.”

The Bible is filled with teachings about the lives of God’s people being markedly different from those of the world. Teenagers can make a powerful statement about their faith… if their musical choices won’t undermine it. Resolve to be a constant source of decision-making aid for your teens in their musical choices.

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Do Bad Lyrics Really Affect Teenagers?

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