What are kids learning from Lady Gaga's music videos?

Michael Rich, MD, MPH
Michael Rich, MD, MPH

Michael Rich, MD, MPH is Children’s media expert. He is the director of Children’s Center on Media and Child Health. Take a look at his blog archive or follow him on Twitter @CMCH_Boston.

Last week he addressed research published in the new issue of Pediatrics showing when parents set up and enforce strict screen-time limits for their kids, the children respect the boundaries and are often healthier for it. This week he talks about music videos’ influence on kids, specifically Lady Gaga. With catchy choruses and an infectious sound her music is widely popular, even with younger children, but the thinly veiled sexuality in her lyrics and videos has some parents concerned.

Q: I recently saw the music video for the song “Telephone,” by Lady Gaga and Beyoncé. It is full of sexualized violence. I can’t imagine what kids are learning from this. I know my son loves listening to Beyoncé, and I’m sure he has seen or will see this video. How can I talk to him about what he’s seeing in videos like this?
Vexed by Videos

A: Dear Vexed,

Music videos, like all media, provide an educational experience — a chance for kids to learn something about the world. Music videos are especially powerful because they combine music with images to capture attention and make us feel excited as we watch them. They can provide entertainment, titillation, social commentary, or artistry; they can be fun or frightening, relaxing or infuriating. But whatever their goals, the mood and atmosphere they create do not often reflect reality.

Research shows, for example, that music videos disproportionately portray white women as victims of violence and black men as both perpetrators and victims. These representations matter because kids are in the process of forming their understanding of the world and how it works. Anything they’re exposed to, whether realistic or not, becomes part of that understanding.

When it comes to music videos like “Telephone,” adults’ concerns often focus on the amount of skin showing, and the implied (or even quite explicit) sexual behavior. But it’s not so much the simple fact of skin exposure that’s potentially harmful for kids; rather, it’s the nature of the way sex is portrayed that is potentially damaging. In music videos like this one, sex is shown in a way that has nothing to do with intimacy or relationships. It is instead used as a way to exploit others and is tied to violence and death. While this edgy approach is great for attracting attention and for selling CDs or downloads, the music video audience tends to be teens or pre-teens who are just starting to think about their sexuality. Thus, anything they see will become part of their growing body of knowledge about sex.

It makes sense that you wouldn’t want your son to see this video, but also know that it can present a great opportunity for discussion. First, ask whether he’s seen the video (or any other Beyoncé or Lady Gaga videos) in a non-judgmental, open way. Then ask what he thinks of it—what does he think the video is about? What does he like about it, and what does he find disturbing? Does he think it’s realistic? If not, then why does he think these artists made this video? What are they trying to say? Genuinely listen to his responses, and encourage his thinking with questions. You can also take this opportunity to compare what happens in this video to what happens in real life, to help keep his understanding of the world realistic and healthy.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

7 thoughts on “What are kids learning from Lady Gaga's music videos?

  1. What chldren learn from this video, as with all pornogrphy, is;

    – that human beings are objects, things to be used.

    – that anything that contributes to personal pleasure is acceptable.

    – that there are no true moral boundries.

    – that the only practical ethics are ulitarian.

    – that respect for anything other than personal, perverse gratification is pointless.

    Essentially a very educational piece of videography. :-{

    Certainly, this sort of mental and social trash needs to be discussed – between parent and child – but not viewed. You don’t need to force you child’s hand into a fire to explain it’s dangers.

    People like Ms Gaga don’t have a message. They are selling a product. When people stop buying, the production will stop.

  2. I love Lady Gaga and Beyonce and even though their video becomes a controversy, but i believe high end singers like them will not be so careless and make “naughty” “violence” “sexual” or whatever so called. I agree that the videos or TV shows can give an understanding about the reality in our environment, but whenever children see the “reality” on TV, parents must stay on their side and prepare the proper explanation

  3. I was very bothered to learn that my 10-year-old daughter was watching these videos while at a friend’s house. It was a lesson for me that I cannot protect them from these images all the time. Knowing my daughter as well as I do, the conversation was more about realistic images of adult women’s bodies and that she does not have to look like the images in that video to be very beautiful. She still thinks “boys have cooties” and she said this video just further confirmed that notion.

  4. I feel the same way about this. As a 16 year old, the rest of my grade is immersed in this kind of graphic, sexually explicit media. Well, I am too to some extent, but thanks to my religious beliefs I’m working to break myself apart from mainstream media. It’s sad though: that it seems to become worse as years progress. I see the next generations following the footsteps of my own generation, and those of Lady Gaga, etc. It’s not really a good thing at all.

    I personally like Gaga’s music but I do agree that it’s polluting the minds of many people. It did the same to me too. It’s certainly not teaching any good values. And although people will argue that kids need to grow up sometime, I refute that as they are maturing as kids and pre-teens, they need to be exposed to the right kinds of materials: moral soundness, manners, wisdom, truths, etc., not sex, drugs, violence, pornography. But as Holden Caulfield sadly expressed, obscenities will be everywhere and unavoidable. We can only do our best to preserve the innocence of children and properly oversee its growth.

  5. you can’t hide children from the real world forever, you just make them more vulnerable by surrounding them in cotton wool.

  6. Kids aren’t as easily influenced as people say they are. Don’t shelter kids. Allow them to understand what everyone sees in the wold and not just what you WANT them to see. Kids who are sheltered end up growing up with odd ideas about how perfect the world seems to be. This is not life experience and is de-educational for their generation.

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