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If you happen to be a teenager’s parent, this conversation most likely sounds familiar. But you should not worry.
A new study published in the Journal of Neuroscience discovered that teens aren’t refusing to listen to their parents; the issue is, neurologically, children process the voices of their parents differently when they grow into teens compared to when they are children.
The study composed of neuroscientists at Stanford University did functional MRI scans on teens ages 13 to 16-and-a-half. In addition, the scientists played recorded the voices of the volunteers of unfamiliar women and mothers during the scans.
Both the women and moms said the exact nonsense words to ensure the volunteers were not responding to the meaning of the words. These recordings were repeated several times in random order. The teens listened to household sounds like a vacuum cleaner.
The researchers looked at a similar study from 2016 of children ages 7 to 12.
In both of these studies, volunteers identified their mothers’ voices 97% of the time. In young children, MRI scans revealed their mom’s voice triggered many areas of the brain that go beyond the regions in charge of the hearing, including visual processing areas, emotion-processing regions, and reward centers.
Among teens, the brain reactions in all of these areas increased significantly. The correlation was so strong scientists could predict a volunteer’s age using the voice-response statistics.
The teens did show a healthier brain response to an unfamiliar voice, particularly in the rewards processing centre and conveying social value. The change happened equally in girls and boys between the ages of 13 and 14.
The scientists discovered that teens’ brains changed to help them tune into a stranger and put much less emphasis on their parents. The change allows teens to form connections and develop socially with others outside their families.
Percy Mistry, Ph.D., lead author and a research scholar in behavioural sciences and psychiatry, said, “The mom’s voice is the source of sound that teaches kids about language development and the emotional-social world.
“Fetuses in utero can recognize mom’s voice before they are born, although with adolescents — even though they have spent a lot more time with that source of sound than the babies have — their brains are shunning away from it listening to other voices. So, they have never even heard before.”
These neurological changes in teens help them pay more attention to voices they don’t recognize and lead them to tune their parents’ voices out. So, when your teen is not listening to you, it’s not them rebelling against you per se, but it is an everyday developmental breakthrough.