Concerned that your 12-year-old is on the road to delinquency? Newly published research suggests an easy way to either assuage or confirm your fears:
Check what’s on their iPod.
“Music choice is a strong marker of later problem behavior,” a research team from Utrecht University in the Netherlands writes in the journal Pediatrics.
Specifically, the scholars report, kids “with a strong early preference for music types that have been labeled as deviant—hip-hop, heavy metal, gothic, punk, and techno/hardhouse—were more engaged in minor delinquency in late adolescence” than their Beyonce- and-Bieber-loving peers.
The study featured 149 boys and 160 girls attending urban high schools in the Netherlands. They took surveys at ages 12, 14, 15 and 16, in which they rated their appreciation of various musical genres. They also reported “how many times they had committed minor offenses, such as shoplifting, petty theft and vandalism in the previous year.”
After controlling for such factors as academic achievement, the researchers found “evidence that an early preference for different types of noisy, rebellious, non-mainstream music genres is a strong predictor of concurrent and later minor delinquency.”
Specifically, those kids who loved hip-hop, metal, gothic and/or trance music at age 12 were more likely than their peers to exhibit delinquent behavior, both at age 12 and age 16. Those who preferred rock, R&B, punk and techno at age 12 were not more likely to be delinquents at that age, but were more likely to engage in such behavior by age 16.
The researchers, led by Tom F.M. ter Bogt, caution that “public claims that engaging with ‘deviant’ media will inevitably lead to problem behavior are wildly exaggerated.” They point out that the study measures not hard-core criminality, but rather "typical adolescent norm breaking behaviors that tend to disappear in early adulthood."
They also note that, in their study, gradually developing preferences for non-mainstream music in the years between 12 and 16 was not related to delinquency in late adolescence. Rather, the correlation was found only among kids who were already heavily into alternative music at age 12.
The researchers believe such youngsters tend to congregate with peers who have similar musical tastes, creating cliques that are cut off from mainstream influences and behavioral norms. “In peer groups characterized by their deviant music taste, norm-breaking youth may ‘infect’ their friends with their behaviors,” they speculate.
If they’re right, it isn’t the music per se that leads kids into delinquency (although anti-social lyrics could conceivably play a role). It’s more the fact that kids who gravitate to other nonconformists at a young age miss out on the benefits of being part of mainstream society—including the positive influences of popular peers.
So if your preteen is listening to Metallica, some early intervention may be in order. On the other hand, if he or she is into Mozart or Monk, fear not: Such kids may also be outside the mainstream, but this isolation does not manifest itself in a negative way.
Indeed, the researchers report, “Preferences for classical music related negatively to delinquency at age 12.”