The Recording Industry Association of America does not dispute that music containing these themes is everywhere.
"Children have access to the media in ways their parents never imagined. In that sense, teenage rebellion is easier than ever before. This media access scares some parents because of the sexually explicit themes, violence and strong language so readily available," states its website.
The statement argues against any form of censorship, but acknowledges that informed parents are the place to turn when deciding what children should listen to.
"All music is not always appropriate for all ages. The music industry takes seriously its responsibility to help parents determine what is and is not appropriate for their children," said Mitch Bainwol, chairman and CEO of the Recording Industry Association of America, on its website. He then explained the creation of the Parental Advisory Label (PAL).
Currently, putting any label on a record is a decision made by individual record companies and artists.
"The RIAA and its member companies take the PAL Program very seriously and continue to update the PAL Program to account for new music delivery methods online and through wireless services. Further, artists appreciate that this is a voluntary program which, instead of seeking to censor their words, permits them greater freedom of expression while still providing them the opportunity to help parents and families make informed consumption decisions," according to the RIAA website.
The Parental Advisory Label is neither a statement that the song is appropriate for certain listeners or a definite statement that those without a label do not have references to violence, sex or drug abuse.
According to the industry's website, it is used to note that parental discretion is advised, for marketing purposes and to tell listeners whether or not there is an edited version.
A case study, a possible solution
Holly Daley, a 16-year-old sophomore from Colorado Springs, Colo., listens to a lot of music. Her average listening time is about three hours per day.
She likes Perry's "Last Friday Night."
"I like that it's a party song," Daley said. "I like to listen to it when I'm ready to get pumped up."
Still, she knows it's about drinking and doing illegal things, and that "it's not really appropriate."
"It's not really something a 16-year-old should be listening to, really," Daley said.
These insights are something Primack said could be the answer to decreasing risk behavior.
"We aren't interested in censorship because we don't think that is central to a democracy ... I think what is more the answer is media literacy," Primack said. "If we pretend that we're going to be reducing young persons' exposure, our heads are in the sand."
His solution includes giving parents and young people the tools to analyze and evaluate all media messages they see around them. For example, when young people hear a popular song that has messages about and glorifies substance abuse, they understand exactly what they're hearing.
Primack said that if schools help children understand poetry, they shouldn't stop there. Students should learn to interpret song lyrics, as well.
The teen-aged Daley said she looks up lyrics often and is often surprised at what she sees. Usually, the radio edit is a lot more clean. She decide whether or not to purchase the song based on the content, and sometimes she chooses not to buy it.
"If it's too vulgar, I don't want to listen to that," she said.
Daley said she feels most songs are pushing kids to have sex and trying to ruin the family unit. This is an example of what Primack called an "empowered consumer" — one who goes through analysis of a song, and doesn't buy into it.
"I think everyone's affected by music," Daley said. "It's going to make you feel a certain way and that's the goal of a song: to make you feel a certain way to make you connect with the artists. That's what sells their music."
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