You probably already had a hunch, but science is confirming it for everyone. A new study out of Stanford University has found that teenagers are literally not listening to their parents. Don’t make me say it twice!
The study, published this month in The Journal of Neuroscience, is technically called “A Neurodevelopmental Shift In Reward Circuitry From Mother’s To Nonfamilial Voices In Adolescence.” But what it’s really saying is that when you repeatedly tell your teen to bring down all of the dirty dishes from their room, they only hear what their friend is saying to them on the phone.
The good news? It happens because teen brains have evolved that way for specific reasons — not because your kid is just being rude. While the brains of babies and kids have evolved to tune into the voices of their mothers and other caregivers, at around 13 years old, they shift to begin to listen to novel voices.
“Just as an infant knows to tune into her mother’s voice, an adolescent knows to tune into novel voices,” Daniel Abrams, lead study author and clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said in a news release.
It’s part of growing up.
“Our findings demonstrate that this process is rooted in neurobiological changes,” Menon said. “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.”
A previous study at Stanford found that babies are laser-focused on their primary caregivers’ voices, and can recognize their mom’s voice with high accuracy. Not only that, but they found that a baby’s brain lights up at the sound of their mama’s voice.
This new study, which focused on kids ages 13 to 16.5, had teens listen to their mom’s voice, the voices of women they didn’t know, and common household sounds. Unlike the babies, whose brains responded to only their mom’s voice, teen brains were more interested in what strangers had to say. They still recognized their mom’s voice 97% of the time, but their brains were less interested in it.
“A child becomes independent at some point, and that has to be precipitated by an underlying biological signal,” said the study’s senior author, Vinod Menon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “That’s what we’ve uncovered: This is a signal that helps teens engage with the world and form connections which allow them to be socially adept outside their families.”
So, when you have to tell your teenager to take out the trash four times, rest assured it’s at least partially because their brains are developing — and they’re hearing all of the voices around them louder than yours. They’re not just being jerks.
Hopefully the next study will explain why teenagers suddenly don’t think their parents are cool anymore.