Have you ever felt like your teen is blatantly ignoring you, specifically when you tell them to take out the trash? Well, it turns out they’re not! A recent Stanford School of Medicine research study has let parents worldwide breathe a sigh of relief because, believe it or not, from the age of 13, teenagers' brains do not register their mothers’ voices in the same way as they did before.
The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, used MRI technology to observe the brain activity of 46 children while they listened to their mother's voice compared to an unfamiliar female voice. The study found that children aged 13 and older had heightened brain activity in the reward centres when listening to an unfamiliar voice. In contrast, those younger than 13 had heightened activity when listening to their mother's voice.
The study’s lead author Daniel Abrams explains, "Just as an infant knows to tune into her mother’s voice, an adolescent knows to tune into novel voices.” What this means is that as your child becomes a teenager, they become more receptive to outside influences other than their parents.
While it can be frustrating when you are being ‘ignored’ by your teen or feel them distancing themselves from you, this period is essential for their development.
As your child moves into adolescence, their brains prioritize independence, exploration, and forming their own identity. They start seeking input from outside of their immediate family and engaging with broader society. If you think about it in evolutionary terms, they are preparing to leave their family, and biologically speaking, this natural desire to detach is to avoid inbreeding within the tribe.
Your teenager needs to learn to listen to others and rely less on your input to gear up to become an independent adult.
Despite the frustration it may cause, your kid's curiosity and desire for independence are really important for their development. It's common for parents to feel disconnected from their teens during this time and sometimes fear for their well-being. Outside voices can be a negative influence at times, and as we know, teens are already predisposed to risk-taking behavior (also due to developmental changes in their brains).
So what can you do as a parent to ensure your kids have the freedom to establish a degree of independence while also keeping them safe? We’ve compiled some helpful tips to help you navigate these years alongside your teen.
1. Get Them a Life Coach or Mentor
Many teenagers naturally drift toward a certain school teacher, community leader or even a friend’s parent. Others move toward their peers, who become important sources of validation and social support. What you as a parent can do is expose your teenager to adults whose voices, perspectives and guidance you trust.
Many parents have noticed the benefits of getting their teens a mentor or a life coach who checks in with them regularly and offers support and encouragement.
At Coachbit, our coaches do just that - equipping teens with the skills to navigate the pressures of school and life and support their overall well-being. Unlike most life coaches, ours are trained to deal specifically with the challenges teens face today.
2. Stay Engaged
While your teenager gravitates toward other people, this doesn’t mean you get to tag out. Maintain an active and genuine interest in their lives. Ask about their day, school, friends and activities. Show genuine curiosity and actively discuss their likes, dislikes, and aspirations. Try out their hobbies and use the time to have meaningful conversations.
The best part is now that you understand what’s really going on in that head of theirs, you can apply a little empathy to the situation.
Daniel Abrams, study author, reminds us, “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 want to spend time with them. Your mind is increasingly sensitive to and attracted to these unfamiliar voices.”
3. Foster Open Dialogue
Create a safe and non-judgmental environment where your teenager feels comfortable expressing their opinions. This might be easier said than done.
The first step is demonstrating open-mindedness and a willingness to consider different perspectives as a parent. You didn’t come to your own conclusions and opinions without due research and consideration? Let them know that - and allow them the space to ask the difficult questions and search for the solutions with you.
4. Balance Your Boundaries
Respecting and acknowledging your teen's need for independence and exploration is important. However, there is a fine balance to hold - let them know you value their autonomy while also ensuring their safety and well-being.
Establish clear boundaries and expectations but allow your teenager the freedom to make their own decisions and within those boundaries, striking a balance between guidance and independence is essential . Your teenager will make mistakes, they will push the boundaries and test your limits. Each child is different, but we recommended approaching the situation from a place of curiosity and a desire to understand them - be curious rather than furious.
So, are they really not hearing you when you ask them to clean their room for the tenth time, or are their brains blocking us out? We’ll never know!
What we do know is that the teenage brain develops rapidly during adolescence, and this transition can be scary and overwhelming for parents. But remember, you’re still an important voice in their lives, your role as a parent just looks a little different.
We highly recommend getting your teen a life coach. Our coaches at Coachbit are ready to provide all the support your kids may need. What’s more - they genuinely care.
We will help to set them up for success, so all you need to do is stay engaged and show empathy!
Daniel A. Abrams, Percy K. Mistry, Amanda E. Baker, Aarthi Padmanabhan, Vinod Menon, “A Neurodevelopmental Shift in Reward Circuitry from Mother's to Nonfamilial Voices in Adolescence.” Daniel A. Abrams, Percy K. Mistry, Amanda E. Baker, Aarthi Padmanabhan, Vinod Menon. Journal of Neuroscience, 18 May 2022, 42 (20) 4164-4173; DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2018-21.2022