The short answer? Sure... if they like it.
The long answer?
In music therapy research, there are two big themes that come up over and over again:
1. In a music therapy setting, live music is almost always more effective than recorded music.
2. Music preference is INCREDIBLY important. Use music the client enjoys.
That's a WAY oversimplified way to interpret some sophisticated research, but here's the takeaway:
If your teenager tells you that the only music that relaxes them is rock/punk/heavy metal... resist the urge to turn on soft music and expect it to work better because it's "relaxing". Instead, inquire further and encourage them to select the music they feel will help them relax, regardless of how you feel about it.
A few years back I worked in a pediatric intensive care unit and was consulted for a teenage patient in a medically induced coma. He was requiring excessive medication to keep him sedated, and even so, he was still agitated. His doctor thought music therapy might be able to decrease his agitation without more medication (yes, a brilliant and forward-thinking doctor).
As I approached his room, I heard loud music. It was Canon in D, the classical song that's often used for weddings. I inquired, and it turns out a well-meaning nurse had been playing it for him on repeat FOR 24 HOURS STRAIGHT. (You know, to calm him down!) When I asked his parents what kind of music he liked, they immediately understood why I was asking and said, "Not this!" He liked classic rock... the harder the better.
I worked with his parents and we made him a playlist of his favorite classic rocks songs and set it up in his room (and scheduled times for silence, too!). The upbeat music was a stark contrast to the typically quiet and sterile feel of an intensive care unit. It took some time to reassure the well-meaning nurse that this was safe and worth a try (not the parents... they were completely on board the second I explained the rationale).
Sure enough, he calmed almost immediately. It was incredible to watch. He didn't require extra medication and the entire feel of his hospital room changed. His parents were relieved, as were his medical team.
The most amazing part of this story is that when he woke up days later, I ASKED him and he was distantly aware of what had been going on in his room. He told me (and was equally amazed) that he remembered the song that played over and over again! He was so relieved and grateful that after that ordeal, he was able to listen to HIS music. He continued to rely on music for the rest of his stay and he always got an enthusiastic "thumbs up" from me when I passed his room and he was rocking out.
So... what should kids listen to??? What they like to listen to!
I encourage introducing a wide variety of music and then helping kids find what they like over many genres. My daughter wasn't a huge fan of classical music until we talked about ballet and I showed her videos of dancers dancing and adapting to the changing music. Now she dances all over the house to her favorite Tchaikovsky ballet themes:
A few things to consider as you're selecting music for your child:
- It should be high-quality (in tune and recorded well). A child's early music exposure plays a big role in their development (in cognition and many academic areas, but also in pitch and rhythm).
- It should match their developmental level. There's a reason why kindergarteners aren't interested in their favorite song from 2 years ago. Their brains need more stimulation. (More complicated music!)
- It's best if it crosses many cultures. There are half tones, time signatures and timbres (musical textures) that kids living in the US are not typically exposed to. Just like exposure to languages at a young age, it's the prime time to expose them to music from a variety of cultures.
- Introduce a wide variety of music: jazz, classical, rock, pop, soul, bluegrass, etc.
- If you'd like to take it a step further, engage them in the music by encouraging dancing, playing percussion instruments, painting to music, etc. Active participation will engage their brains more than passive listening.
- It's best if it displays a wide range of emotions (and therefore, keys, tempos and instrumentation). Music is a wonderful tool for demonstrating complex ideas like emotions and empathy.
- When they're ready, take them to see live music in many new settings. It just might ignite some passion and excitement for a particular instrument or kind of music.
What kind of music do you listen to with your kids?
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