Monday, August 07, 2006

So What Are We Going to Do About It?

An Associated Press story talks about a story, a summary of which appears in the latest issue of the journal, Pediatrics:
Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs, a study found.

Whether it's hip-hop, rap, pop, or rock, much of popular music aimed at teens contains sexual overtones. Its influence on their behavior appears to depend on how the sex is portrayed, researchers found.

Songs depicting men as ``sex-driven studs" and women as sex objects, and which have explicit references to sex acts, are likelier to trigger early sexual behavior than those in which sexual references are more veiled and relationships appear more committed, the study found.

Teens who said they listened to lots of music with degrading sexual messages were almost twice as likely to start having intercourse or other sexual activities within the next two years, compared with teens who listened to little or no sexually degrading music.
None of this comes as any surprise, though some will try to explain away the study results' significance:
...researchers tried to account for other factors that could affect teens' sexual behavior, including parental permissiveness, and still found explicit lyrics had a strong influence.

However, Yvonne K. Fulbright, a New York-based sex researcher and author, said factors including peer pressure, self-esteem, and home environment probably are more influential than the research suggests.
Fulbright is right, I think, in saying that other factors, all of which relate in some way to family functionality, likely lay behind many teens' acceptance of misogyny, the objectification and subordination of women, the objectification of sex itself, and of non-committed sexual expression.

But surely the existence of family dysfunctionality should be more reason for society--and for the corporations and entertainers who cater to young people--to exercise greater wisdom about the music presented to kids.

Battling with low self-esteem and set adrift from strong, affirming familial ties, kids find their values where they may. Their situations call for society at large to act on their behalf.

The question this study raises is a simple one: What are we going to do about it as a society?

Of course, it would be wrong to infringe on the First Amendment rights of artists. The same amendment which protects their right to create misogynist music also protects others' right to speak a word from God and to worship Him. In America, we mutually agree to afford one another the opportunity to express themselves. Government censorship is not only wrong, I think, but also likely to be ineffective.

Rather, I think that the whole society needs to make it very clear to the mavens of the entertainment industry that we expect them to behave responsibly. We need to ask that they:
  • Stop objectifying males by portraying them as nothing more than sex machines
  • Stop objectifying females by implying that their worth resides only in the full expression of their sexuality
  • Stop linking sex with violent domination of males over females
  • Stop creating the expectation that sex is unrelated to commitment
Frankly, with the possible exception of my fourth bullet-point above, I can't imagine that every responsible group in American society couldn't or wouldn't wholeheartedly endorse these demands. Women's groups, pediatricians, the mental health community, educators, parent groups, the criminal justice system, social service agencies, and faith communities, including my fellow Christians, should all be able to get on board.

Of course, down the road, such demands might need to be given the teeth of a boycott. But for now, petitioning all of the major music and film distributors, asking them to take a responsible attitude toward the safety and well-being of our kids makes sense. If people are going to make money off of young people, they should--as surely as those who market food, drugs, and other products--be expected to not endanger them.

What do you think?


Icepick said...

I see the study about children and teens watching pro-wrestliis in the story as well. To both these studies I have the same comment:

Correlation does not equal causation.

Mark Daniels said...

I agree with your conclusion as it relates to the second study, for which scant information was provided.

But it seems to me that the music study did a pretty good job of isolating music as an influence.


:P fuzzbox said...

It is hard for me to agree with anything regarding censorship of music. But I do see the concern. It is a tricky subject. I think it certainly should be cause for parents to become more involved in what their kids are listening to.

Mark Daniels said...

I am completely opposed to censorship. I also think that parents need to be more involved.

But many parents are uninvolved and I think that responsible society needs to let the record labels know how we feel about the poison they're feeding kids.


urbanmike said...

a study found....

How often do we read these words and wonder if it's just another agenda being pushed? Nowhere does it make mention of the funding, conservative perhaps?

Of course kids who have sex and going to listen to that sort of music, its like the fact that kids who like cars buy car magazines.

Mark Daniels said...

You may not have noticed, but the study was funded by the RAND Corporation. This think tank has usually been accused of having a liberal bias, not a conservative one, making the study's findings all the more interesting.

Thanks for your comments.


Icepick said...

Mark, I'm willing to accept that feedback loops exist. But that still doesn't mean correlation equals causation, and certainly doesn't mean that this study has proven this point. Frankly, psychological studies just don't have much credibility with me, as too often they completely fail to even attempt any kind of scientific rigor.

While these kinds of entertainment have some influence on the overall culture, it is also true that the overall culture has much influence on the entertainment it consumes. Are teens behaving badly because of what they hear on the radio (Does nayone listen to the radio anymore? How out of touch am I?), or are they gravitating to music that describes the way they're living?

I can't help but remember my own youth and the people I knew. The boys who had shown an early propensity to violence tended to end up getting into all kinds of violent entertainment when they got older.

This (my youth back in first in second grade) was far enough back that my neighborhood didn't have cable. We had the three networks, a PBS station, and the occasional independent station. And this was well before MTV came along, or video games. And yet, the kids who were always starting fights back then were the same ones getting in much more serious trouble years later. Am I supposed to believe that REO Speedwagon and Pac-Man pushed them over the edge? Or is it that these children, trouble-makers from the time I met them, had simply gotten older, bigger and more hormonally charged, and were therefore capable of doing more damage? At least a good chunk of it has to be the latter.

As for the girls, the ones who were always managing to get attention by acting up in inappropriate ways were often (usually) the ones who ended up pregnant before HS graduation, or worse.

Since I was young, teen pregnancy rates have gone up, come down, and I believe are rising again. Since the culture has only gotten cruder since I was young, and never more chaste, why the dip for several years?

I personally believe that dysfunctional families are far more problematic than the 'youth music culture', and that until that problem is corrected, it won't matter what songs are on the radio.

Mark Daniels said...

You're right that family dysfunctionality is the key issue. To my mind, that is a profoundly spiritual matter.

But given that many families are dysfunctional, vacuums are created in the lives of children. Someone needs to speak a word on behalf of these lost children.

By the way, the existence of these vacuums in children's lives is why I serve on the board of our area's Boys and Girls Club. I see B&G as an organization that gives "at risk" kids and all kids the chance to get a new vision of themselves in spite of their home situations.

Thanks for your very thoughtful comments...great points!


B.R.L said...

I am here from Dr John's blog.
I wonder if telling the music makers to tune down their message will work because they are writing that material to get badk at society I think. Groups like the Girls and Boys club would have more chance of helping. I saw on TV yesterday I woman who taught at risk kids polo. She got very envolved with their lives.