There’s no doubt that Taylor Swift’s single “Shake it Off” is catchy, energetic, and serves a purpose for a really good solo dance party. Who hasn’t pumped up the volume to sing along with “this…sick…beat”? It’s interesting to note that Swift’s music appeals to a relatively wide demographic, from teenagers to young adults. When 1989 was released last week, I found myself having conversations with my teenager students about the CD, debating which track was the best, and agreeing that they were all pretty awesome. After the realization that my students and I share a common musical interest settled in, I started paying a little more attention to the lyrics.
It occurred to me that “Shake it Off” is one of the best songs for teenagers to be listening to. There’s no better message to communicate to middle and high school students than “be who you are, and don’t let haters get you down.” At a time when teenagers are figuring out that who they actually are may be different from who they want to be, it’s imperative to have a reminder to stay true to themselves. Beyond that, it’s beneficial for young people to have a song to blast that empowers them to feel confident about who they are.
Today, the word “bullying” prompts a host of reactions, discussion, and commentary. As far as modern education is concerned, there is no greater buzzword or hot-button issue. Schools are mandated to have anti-bullying programs in place that strive to enforce positive cultures and reduce the instances of teasing and hurtful actions. There’s a lot of emphasis placed on encouraging children not to be “bystanders” and to speak up if they see an act of bullying taking place. Most schools have a disciplinary procedure to follow in the event of a bullying incident, and any child accused of bullying is quickly written up in the form of an official document.
The piece that is often overlooked involves the victims of bullying themselves. Many of these anti-bullying programs, while well-intentioned, fail to address the very simple issue of empowerment. Meaning: how do we teach teenagers to bounce back from hurtful words? How do we encourage strength and resilience?
It’s obviously important to teach young people to be kind to one another. It’s crucial that we educate teenagers to be accepting of all people, and that we address harmful and hateful behavior head on. But to believe that all bullying and cruelty could possibly ever be eliminated is not only incredibly foolish and naïve, but also dangerous. It is essential that teenagers are also equipped with the skills to handle cruelty they may encounter.
We all know that feeling of finding a song that makes us feel powerful. We know what it is like to turn up the volume to its maximum capacity, forgetting about neighbors and those passing by. We know what it’s like to jump on our beds, or to roll the car windows down, and belt lyrics at the top of our lungs, sometimes pumping our fists or nodding our heads in vigor. We know what it’s like to believe that every single word was written about us, that the writer of this song somehow had a snapshot of our current existence, and wrote these lyrics with us in mind. We know that feeling of finding a song that somehow feels like our anthem.
Swift’s “Shake it Off” should, without a doubt, be that anthem for all teenagers. At one point or another, regardless of how much we try to protect them, young people will encounter disappointment, shame, and embarrassment. We all can think back on words that have been hurtful, or a moment in our lives where we wanted to be swallowed up by the earth to escape some form of humiliation. We can strive to educate people to be kinder to one another, and we should, but we also should be promoting self-reliance, self-esteem, and confidence.
Ultimately, sometimes we learn the hard way that the world isn’t always as kind as we want it to be. But these lessons can shape us and make us stronger if we have the right support systems in place to act as our anchors. For many, music can be that anchor, and just listening to the right words at the right time can be more than enough to force us to stand up straight and take on the day ahead.