Are we going to take away their music now?

Here’s the first headline I’ve seen off a new study: Are music-loving teens more likely to be depressed? In case you were wondering, the research doesn’t seem to show any kind of causal link, so you can resist the urge to snatch the iPod away from your kids for their health.

(As an aside, I’d just like to note my amusement that the Time blog post quotes the study author’s “statement.” I think the phrase you’re looking for is “press release.” The first makes it sound like you contacted him. The second shows that you subscribe to Eurekalert :D)

The press release headline is slightly better: Teens who choose music over books are more likely to be depressed. Because that’s what the study (400ish teens, which is a fairly respectable number) showed: the kids who were listening to music more often than they were reading books were more likely to be clinically depressed.

I can certainly see that if you’re depressed, it’s harder to pick up a book and concentrate on it, as opposed to just turning on some music. Music as a cause for depression, though? I’m not entirely sure how they would test that (unless you’re willing to take kids who seem depression-prone and somehow keep them isolated from music!), but the data would have to be pretty persuasive to convince me.

If you’re going to claim that it’s listening to depressing music that makes kids depressed, or exacerbates their depression, then why wouldn’t there be a similar rate of depression among readers? There are plenty of depressing books out there. For example, as a teen, I found romances particularly depressing. ::snerk::

Seriously, though, you can’t assume that kids are listening to depressing music but reading only happy fun books. I had to read Lord of the Flies in high school and that was one of the most depressing and awful things I’ve ever read. Oh, and I read 1984 in school too. Also crushingly depressing. Romeo and Juliet? Eighth grade English.

(Well, I suppose as a teen I found Romeo and Juliet more idiotic than depressing, but protagonists dying at the end isn’t exactly fun to read.)

I suppose it’s possible that listening to certain kinds of music could cause changes in the brain, but I’d definitely want to see some serious data before I’m willing to agree to that! Can we ethically do that kind of a test on teenagers? I’m not sure. I suppose it would depend on how long-lasting a change would be. But I digress.

I’ve never been entirely convinced by the research claiming to show a link between media violence and real life violence (although I’m getting there), but this is significantly less convincing.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep an eye on what your kids are listening to, just like you should know what they’re reading and watching. I just don’t think there’s the data to say that listening to a lot of music causes clinical depression, even if your kids are listening to death metal. Or emo punk. Or whatever the cool goth music is these days. Goth =/= clinical depression.

I do think that listening to a lot of music or a lot of depressing music could certainly be a sign—one of many things to clue you in that something might be up. If your kid seems withdrawn, doesn’t want to interact with anyone, just spends all their time with earbuds in, it’s possible they could be depressed.

Mind you…they could also have a bad case of being 16. It’s up to us as parents to figure out the difference.


About mamamara

I'm a 40-something, work-at-home mother of two. I'm pro-vaccine, pro-medicine, pro-science, and an avid reader of information about all of the above, and I want to combine my love for my children with my love for science. So here we are!
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2 Responses to Are we going to take away their music now?

  1. MM says:

    I’ll go with “Kids who are depressed look for various positive stimuli to make themselves feel better (or at least put a grasp on the bad feelings via catharsis), and music is an ages-old method for tapping into emotion.”

    Music didn’t make me depressed when I was a teenager. Music gave me just that much of an upswing so I didn’t kill myself.

    • mamamara says:

      ::nods:: Oh yeah, absolutely. I really think this research misses a few fundamental things about teenagers.

      And if my kids are depressed, I’d prefer they listen to music rather than take drugs. Silly me.

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