Family ties

Gustav Borgen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

For my final post, I was looking for research and articles that might discuss the links between generational attributes and the popular culture of that generation. However, there doesn’t seem to be much literature to support broad sweeping statements about the media consumption of an entire generation, or evidence that the rebellious rejection of parental values is common adolescent behaviour. Instead, I found studies showing that adolescents are influenced largely by their parents tastes in music, reading and television viewing, and that these preferences can either impact or be mitigated by education.

A study about intergenerational media habits (Notten, Kraaykamp & Konig 2012) found that the reading habits of parents’ influences the habits of their children. Unintentional influence occurs through exposure – children who see their parents reading highbrow material are more likely to also read high brow books as teens and adults, and children who seen their parents reading more low brow material are more likely to read low brow material as teens and adults. However, it seems to be the intentional influence that really makes a difference. Parents who, regardless of their own reading preferences, encourage their children to read, create an enduring influence on their children who are more likely to achieve academic success and read highbrow material as teens and adults.

The same study (Notten, Kraaykamp & Konig 2012) found a slightly opposite effect with regard to television viewing habits. Although the children of parents who mostly watched highbrow content also tended to watch highbrow content as teens and adults, and the same occurred in families that mainly watched lowbrow television content, the best predictor of television viewing habits was educational level achieved. So, unlike reading, where the parental influence leads to improved educational outcomes and reading habits, the converse is true for television. All intentional and unintentional parental influences are mitigated by the child’s educational influences. Another interesting finding was that, if parents do not discuss or critique the television shows they are watching, their children assume that their parents approve of or agree with the contents. This highlights a need for parents to avoid mindless consumption of either high or lowbrow media, and be sure to share their opinions and values about the content with their children.

Similar intergenerational continuity studies show that music preferences of the parents also influence children (ter Bogt, Delsing, van Zalk, Christenson & Meeus 2011). Rather than the stereotypical notion of adolescents rebelling against their parents and society at large through their choices in music, this study found that, for the current generation of adolescents and their parents at least, the broad genres that were preferred by the parents (rock, pop, classical, country, jazz, etc) were largely preferred by their children also. It was acknowledged that these are the first two generations to have relatively consistent genres of music where these comparisons could be made. Of course the artists, songs and sub genres will change in each generation, but in general, the authors found the music people listen to in their adolescence and early adulthood is what they continue to like best into their adulthood, and tends to influence their children’s preferences even into adolescence and adulthood.

Interestingly, while different music types were linked with varying educational levels for the parents’ generation, this distinction no longer exists for the current teenagers in the study. In fact, the findings suggested that the more highly educated adolescents of this current generation have broader tastes in music than their parents, and are able to appreciate multiple genres such as classical, pop and rock, at the same time.

Although neither of these studies took into account peer influence on adolescent popular culture preferences, they both showed much stronger links to parental and educational influences than I expected. The idea of teenagers embracing popular culture that shocks and challenges their parents, as an act of rebellion and to develop their own individuality, might not be as wide spread as I’d thought.



Notten, N., Kraaykamp, & Konig, R. P. (2012). Family media matters: Unravelling the intergenerational transmission of reading and television tastes. Sociological Perspectives, 55(4), 683-706. doi:

ter Bogt, T., Delsing, M., van Zalk, M., Christenson, P., Meeus, W. (2011). Intergenerational continuity of taste: Parental and adolescent music preferences. Social Forces, 90(1), 297-319.



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