The Impact of Violent Music Lyrics on Kids

Words by
Joseph Pratt

MAY 07, 2024

The Impact of Violent Music Lyrics on Kids

Warning: Reader Discretion Advised

The following content may disturb readers as it contains graphic material that describes domestic violence, murder, violence against children, and suicide.

Picture this: a child with headphones on, lost in the world of aggressive beats and contentious lyrics. Are they destined for delinquency, or just vibing to the beat?

Society has long debated the impact of violent music on young minds.  

Researchers have suggested that exposure to violent music lyrics has been linked to emotional and behavioral problems, including aggression, substance abuse, risky sexual behaviors, and suicide.

One study found a relationship between violent song lyrics and an increase in aggressive thoughts and feelings of hostility.

violent Foster the People lyrics

The 2024 dispute between high-profile artists Drake and Kendrick Lamar provides a great example. What started as two rappers exchanging diss tracks full of violent, threatening lyrics spilled into “real world” violence with a drive-by shooting at Drake’s home just days after Lamar used a photo of the lavish mansion as album art, effectively doxxing the home address.

Parents of teens have good reason to be interested in this discussion. They want to know what they can do to encourage their children to make healthy music choices

Here is what the research says about the impact of violent music on youth.

Murder, Violence, and Suicide—Common Themes

Consider these disturbing lyrics in the hit “Kim,” penned over 20 years ago by rapper Eminem and still popular today. 

Murder of a spouse, violence in front of a child, revenge, and suicide are the prevailing themes. Rolling Stone describes it as “Eminem screaming at his ex in an insane stream-of-consciousness hate spew” and characterizes it and the entire album as “loud, wild, dangerous, out of control, grotesque, unsettling”

violent Eminem lyrics

Though this is just one example, it illustrates how graphic violence in music can be.

Other popular songs depict violence in just as much striking detail. This content normalizes these antisocial, violent behaviors, especially in the developing minds of children. 

Such destructive messages impact the listener’s worldview, attitudes, and tolerance for violence and misogyny. These lyrics discourage the growth of empathy, whereas prosocial lyrics seem to be the “key factor” influenced by music with prosocial lyrics.

Who Enjoys Listening to Violent Music?

Personality, self-view, and cognitive abilities influence what kind of music people enjoy. 

For instance, those who score lower for agreeableness and conscientiousness are more likely to be fans of violent music genres, such as death metal or gangster rap.When a child within our influence struggles in these ways, decreasing access to violent music and increasing exposure to positive music, regardless of the genre, is a best practice.

Engagement with violent [music content] has been linked with emotional and behavioral problems, including aggressive behaviors and drug and alcohol use.

—Dr. William Forde Thompson, Department of Psychology, Macquarie University

How Does Violent Music Affect Youth?

Most research suggests violent lyrics both increase anger and aggressiveness and decrease positive emotions.

Some studies propose the inverse is true—that prosocial lyrics increase empathy and positive mood.

Even so, it is plausible that long-term, regular exposure to violent music desensitizes listeners to violence. 

Evidence from other violent media forms supports this explanation.

Many of us adults have jammed out to a song from our younger days, only to realize the innocent lyrics we remember are actually inappropriate. That’s because adults have the development and experience to sift through messaging that a child cannot yet process.

Violent video games have been linked to “increased aggressive behaviors and decreased empathy.”

Music Choice, Friend Groups, and Friends’ Behavior as Warning Signs

A National Center for Biotechnology Information study shows the influence of music choice and friend groups on adolescent misbehavior.

Friend groups are often formed and maintained by a shared preference in music.

This is not a call to ban any specific genre of music; to categorize any genre as responsible for childhood maladies and societal decline oversimplifies the issue. As parents we can create a family culture of sharing playlists and talking with kids about their music choices as a way to identify warning signs.

If we notice a change in mood, behavior, and family connection and a teen seeks friends who engage in damaging behavior, there is cause for concern.

person with hood and audio

Does Violent Music Cause Violent Behavior?

In short, the answer is maybe

Exposure to violent content certainly normalizes deviant and illegal acts perpetrated by violent offenders. 

It also can poison the emerging worldview of a child and impact their relationships with others. 

Over time, this seems to have the potential to harm temperament. 

Whether this results in violent behavior depends on individual personality, life circumstances, and predisposition.

Steering children toward upbeat, positive songs is the safest route.

Continued conversations about the music in your home and on your family’s devices will provide a chance for connection. 

Though we can’t know everything our kids listen to, we do have control over what types of music they can access through devices we provide. 

Streaming platforms offer kids almost unlimited access to popular music—much of it with explicit lyrics and adult themes. Most of these services don’t offer parent controls or rely on inadequate filters.

For these reasons, a safe streaming app is a smart choice for protecting children.

Parents don’t have to worry because songs with profanity, violence, and sexual innuendo aren’t just filtered out, they simply are not included in an app’s library.

For many families, a clean streaming service is the perfect answer. Kids are protected from destructive messages, at least on their personal devices.

Conversations about music choices are still the best way to set boundaries and teach kids about how the content we consume affects us.

Music streaming services today are built for adults, with kids as an afterthought. Gabb Music is different. Completely safe from the start, kids and parents alike can listen freely.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments!


  • Mom of teens on Nov 05, 2023 03:42 PM

    This is so true!! As a parent. I really appreciate your approach on this. I wish there was a way to do this on school Chromebooks as well...!!

  • Gabb on Nov 07, 2023 09:06 AM

    We agree!

  • Kelley Riley on Feb 27, 2024 11:15 AM

    This blog post has left us feeling grateful and inspired

  • avenue17 on Feb 28, 2024 11:47 AM

    Many thanks for the information.

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