Study: Kids Who Like 'Unconventional Music' More Likely to Become Delinquent

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Today's Bieber fans are tomorrow's upstanding citizens.

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Thomas Peter/Reuters

PROBLEM: When a kid asserts early on that he rejects pop music, is it just cute and kind of hipster of him? Or is his preference for the "noisy, rebellious, nonmainstream" scene something to keep an eye on?

METHODOLOGY: About 300 children in the Netherlands were followed for four years of their adolescence. The researchers conducting the study gathered information about the kids' favorite types of music and tracked incidents of "minor delinquency" -- such as shoplifting or vandalism -- from the time they were 12 until they reached age 16.

RESULTS: Twelve-year-olds who were into hip-hop, metal, gothic, punk, trance or techno/hardhouse had already begun to "act out," and continued to do so by the time they were 16. Those who liked rock music at age 12 were relatively well-behaved, but were more likely to engage in bad behavior at 16.

Preferring either mainstream pop (or "highbrow" music like classical or jazz, which the researchers considered conventional), on the other hand, did not predict future delinquency, and in some cases was negatively associated with it.

CONCLUSION: Liking music that goes against the mainstream at a young age is a strong predictor of future delinquency in kids.

IMPLICATIONS: The strongest effect seen here existed between music preference at age 12 and delinquency later, at age 16. This suggests that "innocent" enjoyment of "deviant" music may be an early sign that the kids may grow up to be deviants themselves. As the authors theorize, "Music is the medium that separates mainstream youth from young people who may more easily adopt norm-breaking behaviors." 

They also suggest that "in peer groups characterized by their deviant music taste, norm-breaking youth may 'infect' their friends with their behavior." Parents, you've been warned.

The full study, "Early Adolescent Music Preferences and Minor Delinquency," is published in the journal Pediatrics.

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Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

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