We all know that there is magic in music. Music soothes and heals and changes our moods.

Music is also the soundtrack for adolescents and young adults.

You often find them engrossed in music, headphones stuck on their ears, utterly oblivious to the world.

For them, music is the way they express themselves, build their identity and connect with peers.

It is their language.

It turns out there is a connection between music and the development of their brain.

Music plays an integral part in the transitional period of life for adolescents as they define their personal and social identities and the choices they make in music selection.

Brain mapping shows that an adolescent’s brain is different from that of an adult.

The way a teenager’s brain is wired is partly responsible for risky behaviours often seen in adolescents where their unpredictable actions are often overridden with emotions rather than with reasoning and thinking.

These risky behaviours can lead some teens into adverse situations – from mental disorders to juvenile crime.

The answer to their irrational, impulsive and sometimes dangerous behaviour lies in music.

Here is why music is essential for teenagers and their development:

  • Music affects critical aspects of self-image development

Teenagers spend a tremendous amount of time listening to music and this exposure in a crucial time of their development is pivotal in developing their self-worth and identity.

Adolescents use music to identify themselves as they compare who they are with popular music artists. At a time when they are self-exploring their world and their identity, music helps them develop their self-image through music choices and famous music artists they follow. This also helps them “fit into” various peer groups and bond with them.

In fact, music also shapes cultural and ethnic identity, and many teens use music to promote cultural learning.

  • Music helps teenagers identify emotions and regulate stress

At this time teenagers are going through a myriad of emotions as they grapple with various pressures of transitioning from adolescence to young adulthood.

For teenagers struggling with such issues as sexuality, sexual orientation, loneliness, depression, and expectations of others, music can be good therapy.

It helps them identify emotions in music especially if they are unable to talk about their feelings with family, friends, and peers.

They also listen to music to distract themselves from worries and stress and to relieve tension. As such, music is used as a coping mechanism which helps them find solace and regulate emotions.

Music is also a mechanism for them to vent emotions such as anger and frustration – whether they are listening to music or writing and playing music. This can be quite a cathartic experience for adolescents.

Studies have shown that adolescents’ emotional well-being is enhanced when they experience positive emotions from music and it also helps them relate to friends and family members with similar music tastes.

  • Music improves academic achievement

Music is known to boost brain power, and various studies have shown robust benefits for intellectual and academic achievement.  One such study conducted by independent educational researchers Educational Transformations examines programs run by an Australian charity, The Song Room.  The researchers make a powerful argument for music and the arts in raising achievement and enhancing student wellbeing.

In fact, music lessons have a positive effect on reading and mathematics achievement in both childhood and adolescence.

During this critical stage of development adolescents are exposed to many hours of music listening which helps them develop creativity and a sense of originality.

Music has been used successfully as a form of therapy as it helps teenagers wade through this tumultuous time in their lives especially with those who are having problems in peer and adult relations and display inappropriate behaviours.

Various techniques include song discussion, listening, writing lyrics, composing music, and performing music.

It is on this premise that we have funded DRUMBEAT – a flexible therapeutic intervention program that responds to young people suffering issues such as isolation, stress, and anxiety. It engages with young people most at risk through drumming and is more effective than other “talk-therapies.”

Music is the language of teenagers and interventions that can help them go a long way in establishing their wellbeing and boost them towards successful outcomes.

Meena Azzollini