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Does Rap Put Teens at Risk?

Study: Association Found Between Video Viewing Time and Risky Behaviors
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WebMD Health News

March 3, 2003 -- Teens who spend more time watching the sex and violence depicted in the "reel" life of "gangsta" rap music videos are more likely to practice these behaviors in real life, suggests one of the first studies to specifically explore how rap videos influence emotional and physical health.

After studying 522 black girls between the ages of 14 and 18 from non-urban, lower socioeconomic neighborhoods, researchers found that compared to those who never or rarely watched these videos, the girls who viewed these gangsta videos for at least 14 hours per week were far more likely to practice numerous destructive behaviors. Over the course of the one-year study, they were:

  • Three times more likely to hit a teacher
  • Over 2.5 times more likely to get arrested
  • Twice as likely to have multiple sexual partners
  • 1.5 times more likely to get a sexually transmitted disease, use drugs, or drink alcohol.

"What is particularly alarming about our findings is that we didn't find an association with just violence or one or two risky behaviors," says researcher Ralph J. DiClemente, PhD, of Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health. "We found an association with a string of these behaviors."

His study, published in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health, only involved black girls living in Birmingham, Ala. -- all of whom were already sexually active. While the researchers surveyed viewing habits for various types of rap videos, gangsta rap was by far the most popular among the girls practicing these destructive behaviors.

"We wanted to focus on young, African American women, a population that is very vulnerable," DiClemente tells WebMD. "In these videos, men hold the power and women don't and as a result, are subservient. I'm not sure that the girls in our study were lashing out because of this, but more likely role-modeling the behaviors they see. The women in these videos are doing OK, they're hanging around with a man who is powerful, affluent, going to nice clubs and wearing nice clothes. For these girls, they may not be a bad thing."

His team is currently expanding its research to investigate how these and other rap videos may influence behaviors across other racial, gender and socioeconomic lines. Although gangsta rap videos depict tough inner-city "street" life, their largest viewing audience is white suburban youth, who have better access to cable television channels such as MTV and BET (Black Entertainment Television).

Of course, this isn't the first time that rebellious music has been blamed for society's ills. From Elvis to Columbine, the songs of music-obsessed youth have often been blamed for anti-social behavior. But rap -- and in particular, the especially violent and sexually-explicit gangsta variety -- has raised special concern.

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