Plugged In Tuned Out

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Today's technologically savvy youth readily embrace music and all the ways it is now delivered. Many young people on their way to the bus stop in my neighborhood have portable MP3 players, iPods and cell phones that play tunes. Users of such equipment can be recognized by earbuds in their ears and dangling cords attached to the sources of their music. And such devices have become status symbols. Those who don't have them aspire to get them as soon as possible.

Plugging in to one's own music allows us to tune out what's going on around us and create our own environment. Of course, it's not just young people who are tuning in to music. People of all ages now listen to music as they ride the bus, jog, exercise or work in the yard. This is in addition to enjoying music in the more traditional ways, such as when riding in cars or relaxing at home.

There is no doubt that music is a powerful and enjoyable medium, but is it always beneficial for us? That depends. Sometimes it is; sometimes it isn't.

The health food industry tells us that we are what we eat. When it comes to music, we often are what we listen to. The point is, music influences us.

ScienceDaily reported that "according to new research presented at the American Public Health Association's Annual Meeting & Exposition in Washington, D.C., 33 percent of the most popular songs of 2005 portrayed substance use." Brian Primack, lead researcher on this study, said, "Previous research has shown that exposure to substance use messages in media is linked to actual substance use in adolescents."

The references to "substance use"—alcohol and marijuana were most often portrayed—varied by genre. "Rap music led the way with 77 percent of songs referring to substance use, followed by country at 37 percent and R&B/hip-hop at 20 percent. Rock and pop were on the lower end of the spectrum at 14 percent and 9 percent, respectively." Sadly, substance abuse in these songs was often portrayed in a positive way.

Those who care about the influence music has on them will carefully choose the genres and even the specific pieces of music to which they'll listen.

Of course, we also have to remember that plugging in to music and tuning out the real world can also lead to problems. Connecting to technology of all types—including music, cell phones and the Internet—can inadvertently create a disconnect between young people and their parents. While developing and maintaining a good relationship between youth and parents has been a timeless challenge, today's technology allows young people greater opportunities to function in their own worlds apart from adult influence.

In this issue we provide some vertical food for thought regarding music, as well as advice that can help you have a better relationship with your parents. We hope you'll plug in judiciously and also be tuned in to strengthening that vital relationship. VT