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  • Writer's pictureJacqueline Jouannet


This week, I have been planning a lecture for a group of counselling students on the topic of working with children and young people (CYP). As part of the session I have asked the trainee counsellors to spend some time revisiting music from their teenage years and to choose a song to share that has some emotional significance to them.

Music is a hugely important part of many people's lives. In my experience, music in the teenage years can be particularly formative. Listening to songs from my own adolescence, I can easily find myself moved to tears as the memories come flooding back.

The task of adolescence is to develop identity and a sense of self that is separate from the family in which they grew up. This can be a painful process, as teens move back and forth between rejecting previously held roles and expectations, and longing for the security and comfort (ideally) provided for them as a dependent child.

Part of this process of separation involves finding ways of obtaining a sense of who they are in the external world. A way of doing this is to develop intense identification with particular musical genres or subcultures. The young person can see in their musical idols qualities they admire, aspire towards, and perhaps feel they are currently lacking. The passion, anger, rebellious, emotional nature of the music they relate to so strongly enable the teenager to process new, complicated feelings. Lyrics speak to them, they feel less alone, they find friendships and feel seen and understood by other young fans.

If parents hate the music, all the better! It is an effective way for the teenager to be able to dismiss the parents' views as wrong, which serves to firm up their sense of themselves as a separate and distinct individual. All of which is developmentally appropriate.

At the age of 12 my oldest child became obsessed with the band Slipknot. He asked for band t shirts, skinny black jeans, grew his hair long and spent hours listening to every song he could find. For a while, I was concerned that the aggressive and (to me at the time) violent sounding music would cause him to become aggressive and depressed. However, I see now that discovering this music was a life changing experience for him. As a generally gentle and calm boy, he was able to project his natural feelings of anger and rage that were harder for him to express, onto the musicians in the band, who could express these feelings for him. This allowed him to feel more uncomfortable emotions in a safe and contained way, by allowing the music to 'speak' for him.

I am very fond of Slipknot now and appreciate their music for the pleasure and regulation it has brought to my son and many others. For anyone interested, here is a link to my favourite! I look forward to hearing my students' musical choices and to reflect with them on the significance of the songs on their sense of self.

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