Sometimes, when it comes to getting your teenager to listen to you, it can feel like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. In other words, it’s damn near impossible.
You know, moments like telling your beloved adolescent offspring FOUR TIMES to empty the dishwasher and it still isn’t done.
Or telling them “for the umpteenth time,” to pick up the dirty socks they left in the middle of the stairs, that they have literally walked past no less than eleventy-billion times.
Or when you’re rushing out the door, after multiple reminders of “We’re leaving at 8 o’clock SHARP,” and they stand there, staring at you, completely oblivious, their hair sopping wet, wrapped in a towel, screaming, “Why didn’t you SAY something??”
It is in these moments that you really start to question, “Can you even HEAR me?”
Turns out, probably not.
In a study that surprises no mom ever, scientists have discovered that the teenage brain blocks out the sound of a mother’s voice. Literally.
And mothers everywhere are nodding their heads and saying, “I KNEW IT.”
The new study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, found that around age 13 kids start tuning out the sound of their mother’s voice and tuning into nonfamilial voices.
In other words, your teen may not hear you loudly rage-whispering about the socks when she is two inches away from you, but what she will hear? Is the sound of her friend’s voice, ten lockers over, whispering about Betty Sue and Chad behind the bleachers at school.
In science-speak, it’s “A Neurodevelopmental Shift In Reward Circuitry From Mother’s To Nonfamilial Voices In Adolescence.”
In mom-speak, it means you’re probably gonna have to say it again. And again. And again…
While this is bad news for all us moms out there who are tired of the endless repetition that has become our daily existence, there is a silver lining: at least our teens aren’t ignoring us on purpose.
So there’s that.
So what did scientists discover exactly?
The study, conducted by the Standford School of Medicine, used functional MRI brain scans to measure how teenagers, aged 13 to 16.5 years old, responded to the sound of their mother’s voice compared to a novel female voice.
All participants had an IQ of at least 80 and were being raised by their biological mothers. They did not have any neurological, psychiatric, or learning disorders.
Researchers had teens listen to brief recordings of their mother’s voice and two unfamiliar women’s voices saying three nonsense words. They were asked to indicate when they heard their mom.
The teens were then placed in a magnetic resonance imaging scanner, where they listened again to the voice recordings.
They also listened to brief recordings of common household sounds, such as a dishwasher running, so researchers could compare how the brain responds to voices versus other non-social sounds.
Scientists compared the data with a study they had done previously in 2016 of kids aged 7 to 12 years. In that study, they found that “hearing Mom’s voice triggers an explosion of unique responses.”
For kids under the age of 13, the special sound of their mother’s voice elicited greater brain activity than the sound of a nonfamiliar voice.
Of particular note, they discovered that mom’s voice “lit up” the brain’s reward center like a Christmas tree whereas the novel voice did not. This is also what happens with babies whenever they hear their mama’s voice.
In the new study of teenagers, the opposite is true.
Sorry moms, it seems your teen is way more interested in what pretty much anyone else on the planet has to say than you.
This switch toward unfamiliar voices happened in the brain reward centers of both girls and boys between 13 and 14 years of age.
Daniel Abrams, lead study author and clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said in a press release:
“Just as an infant knows to tune into her mother’s voice, an adolescent knows to tune into novel voices.
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.”
Science has spoken. It’s biology. And an important part of growing up and becoming independent.
The study’s senior author, Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said of the findings:
“Our findings demonstrate that this process is rooted in neurobiological changes.
When teens appear to be rebelling by not listening to their parents, it is because they are wired to pay more attention to voices outside their home.”
So next time your teen says, “But I didn’t hear you!” after you lose your ever-loving mind over the dishes not being washed, chances are, she probably didn’t.
At least, that’s what you can tell yourself anyway. Science tells us so.