Getting in tune: Music provides unique opportunities for teens’ self-expression

Music is one of the most powerful forces on earth. The tunes, beats, lyrics, and instrumentation have an almost supernatural way to communicate humans’ deepest thoughts and feelings.

For adolescents who may struggle sharing their thoughts, music can be a vital instrument of self-expression. It can be particularly valuable for those who may experience mental illness, as the World Health Organization reports that half of diagnosed mental illnesses occur before the age of 14. The Ad Council tapped into that power earlier this year with the Sound it Out Campaign, which encourages youth and adults to use music to start difficult conversations about mental health.

“Music is so powerful because it is integral to nature,” said Rosecrance Recreation Therapist Paul Fasano. “Our own heartbeat is a rhythm that is constantly going, and we resonate with the sound, no matter who we are or what catches our attention.”

Because of that universal nature, music and the arts play an important part in the adolescent programming at the Rosecrance Griffin Williamson Campus. As clients engage, they discover new ways to talk about situations that may trigger anxiety and find music that calms their minds and spirits. These experiences help create breakthrough moments when clients suddenly grasp a concept or discover an insight into their situation that pushes the recovery process a big leap forward.

“A-ha moments are the icing on the cake for treatment,” Fasano said. “It’s wonderful to see joy in clients when they recognize a hidden skill, new talent, or see how to overcome a barrier to treatment, and now they want to know why it clicked in that moment.”

As clients discover the expressive and therapeutic power of music, they learn how incorporate it into daily life. One way that can happen is through ready-to-go playlists that help with emotional regulation. Someone might have uplifting tunes for times when they are sad, peaceful music to relieve stress, high-energy songs for an extra adrenaline boost, and lists for any other situation.

In addition, family and loved ones also can use music to communicate with youth. Adults are encouraged to take an interest in their child’s entertainment and pay close attention to the lyrics and mood. Fasano suggests starting conversations regarding entertainment with a question about music someone identifies with, instead of asking the common “What music do you like?” This will create a safe space for open dialogue when a youth is struggling to share their thoughts.

“Whatever music a person connects to hints at a deeper level of understanding about how they are experiencing the world and their place in it at that age,” Fasano said. “If caring adults spend time with those artists and learn what resonates with a child, there will be more opportunities to build a healthy relationship.”