If you’re finding it hard to get your teenager to listen to you, don’t blame yourself. Instead, blame science. Or, more specifically, the evolutionary pressure over thousands of years that has led children to develop brains, which tune out their mothers as they mature.
According to a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience by the Stanford School of Medicine, once kids reach the age of 13 they begin to stop listening to their mother’s voice because they no longer find it “uniquely rewarding” and begin to seek out new, unfamiliar voices.
The scientists ran the study by popping kids of different ages into MRI machines to measure their brain activity when they heard the voice of their mothers compared to the voice of a stranger. Both the mother and stranger spoke gibberish so that the kids wouldn’t respond to the actual content of what they were saying, just the sound itself. The results showed that older children had heightened brain activity when they heard the nonsense coming from a stranger (which might also explain why baby boomers have been attracted to Piers Morgan’s new show on Sky News.)
“Just as an infant knows to tune into her mother's voice, an adolescent knows to tune into novel voices,” said lead study author Daniel Abrams. “As a teen, you don't know you're doing this. You're just being you: You've got your friends and new companions and you want to spend time with them. Your mind is increasingly sensitive to and attracted to these unfamiliar voices.” Of course, if Abrams tried to explain this concept to his teenage children, there’s a good chance they wouldn’t take any of this information in.
One obvious point of contention about this study is that the results suggest that children under the age of 13 tune in to what their mum is saying, which any mother who has ever dealt with a toddler throwing a tantrum in a supermarket is likely to dispute.
So, how can parents use this information? Well, if you want your kid to continue to listen to you into their teenage years, an obvious solution is to start modulating your voice so that it sounds new and unfamiliar. Remember, kids are dumb and can be easily tricked. If they won’t clean their room, trying going up or down one octave. This will not only get your kid’s attention, but will also serve as great karaoke practice.
Of course, it’s important for mothers to remember that kids tuning out their parents is actually a normal, healthy part of maturing. The only thing worse than a child not listening to their mother is a fully-grown adult who listens to everything their mother says. Ironically, mothers probably don’t want to hear that and would rather tune that information out.