Violent music lyrics have negative effects on kids.
Researchers have long suggested that exposure to violent music lyrics has been linked to emotional and behavioral problems, including aggression, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, and suicide.5
This messaging often fuels negative emotions that amplify these behaviors.1
Warning: Reader Discretion Advised
The following content may disturb readers as it contains graphic material that describes domestic violence, murder, violence against children, and suicide.
We believe it is important for parents to be aware of children’s potential exposure to lyrics that normalize these societal ills.
Through education, parents make informed decisions and successfully navigate tough conversations with their kids.
I used to love her, too bad I had to put a slug through her
Dumped her body in the trash like I never knew her
Blood runnin’ down the gutter into the sewer
Her body stunk for weeks like horse manure
Parents of teens have good reason to be interested in this discussion. They want to know what they can do to encourage their children to make healthy music choices.
Here is what the research says about the impact of violent music on youth.
Murder, Violence, and Suicide—Common Themes
Consider these disturbing lyrics in the hit “Kim,” penned over 20 years ago by rapper Eminem and still popular today.
Murder of a spouse, violence in front of a child, revenge, and suicide are the prevailing themes.
Rolling Stone describes it as “Eminem screaming at his ex in an insane stream-of-consciousness hate spew” and characterizes it and the entire album as “loud, wild, dangerous, out of control, grotesque, unsettling”.6
You and your husband have a fight
One of you tries to grab a knife
And during the struggle he accidentally gets his
Adam’s apple sliced (No!)
And while this is going on,
his son just woke up
And he walks in, she panics,
and he gets his throat cut
(Oh my God!) So now they both dead
And you slash your own throat
So now it’s double homicide and suicide with no note
Though this is just one example, it illustrates how graphic violence in music can be.
Other popular songs depict violence in just as much striking detail. This content normalizes these antisocial, violent behaviors, especially in the developing minds of children.
Such destructive messages impact the listener’s worldview, attitudes, and tolerance for violence and misogyny. These lyrics discourage the growth of empathy, whereas prosocial lyrics seem to be the “key factor” influenced by music with prosocial lyrics. 7
Who Enjoys Listening to Violent Music?
Personality, self-view, and cognitive abilities influence what kind of music people enjoy.
For instance, those who score lower for agreeableness and conscientiousness are more likely to be fans of violent music genres, such as death metal or gangsta rap.5
When a child within our influence struggles in these ways, decreasing access to violent music and increasing exposure to positive music, regardless of the genre, is a best practice.
Engagement with violent [music content] has been linked with emotional and behavioral problems, including aggressive behaviors and drug and alcohol use.—Dr. William Forde Thompson, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University
How Does Violent Music Affect Youth?
Most research suggests violent lyrics both increase anger and aggressiveness and decrease positive emotions.4
Some studies propose the inverse is true—that prosocial lyrics increase empathy and positive mood.3
Even so, it is plausible that long-term, regular exposure to violent music desensitizes listeners to violence.
Evidence from other violent media forms supports this explanation.
Adults have the development and experience to sift through messaging that a child cannot yet process.
Violent video games have been linked to “increased aggressive behaviors and decreased empathy.”
Music Choice, Friend Groups, and Friends’ Behavior as Warning Signs
A National Center for Biotechnology Information study shows the influence of music choice and friend groups on adolescent misbehavior.
Friend groups are often formed and maintained by a shared preference in music.
This is not a call to ban any specific genre of music; to categorize any genre as responsible for childhood maladies and societal decline oversimplifies the issue. As parents we can create a family culture of sharing playlists and talking with kids about their music choices as a way to identify warning signs.
If we notice a change in mood, behavior, and family connection and a teen seeks friends who engage in damaging behavior, there is cause for concern.
Does Violent Music Cause Violent Behavior?
In short, the answer is maybe.
Exposure to violent content certainly normalizes deviant and illegal acts perpetrated by violent offenders.
It also can poison the emerging worldview of a child and impact their relationships with others.
Over time, this seems to have the potential to harm temperament.
Whether this results in violent behavior depends on individual personality, life circumstances, and predisposition.
Steering children toward upbeat, positive songs is the safest route.
Continued conversations about the music in your home and on your family’s devices will provide a chance for connection.
Though we can’t know everything our kids listen to, we do have control over what types of music they can access through devices we provide.
Streaming platforms offer kids almost unlimited access to popular music—much of it with explicit lyrics and adult themes.
Most of these services don’t offer parent controls or rely on inadequate filters.
For these reasons, a safe streaming app is a smart choice for protecting children.
Parents don’t have to worry because songs with profanity, violence, and sexual innuendo aren’t just filtered out, they simply are not included in an app’s library.
For many families, a clean streaming service is the perfect answer. Kids are protected from destructive messages, at least on their personal devices.
Conversations about music choices are still the best way to set boundaries and teach kids about how the content we consume affects us.