CARDIFF, Wales — Teenage years are about the time when it becomes infinitely more difficult for parents to convince their kids to do just about anything. Adolescents are usually just discovering their first taste of freedom, and as such it’s typical for the average teen to disregard mom’s or dad’s orders more often. Well, if you’ve been having trouble with the teen in your life, take heed: A new study finds that teens are much less likely to cooperate with a mother’s requests or orders if she has a controlling tone of voice.
While the experimental phase of the study consisted only of mothers, researchers believe their findings also apply to other important authoritative figures in teens’ lives, such as fathers or teachers. Furthermore, the study also concluded that speaking to a teen in an especially pressuring manner results in a range of negative emotions and reduced feelings of closeness in the adolescent.
The study, conducted at Cardiff University in Wales, is the first ever to examine how teenage subjects respond to different tones of voice when receiving instructions from their mother. In all, 1,000 adolescents took part in the experiment; 486 males and 514 females, all 14-15 years old.
“If parents want conversations with their teens to have the most benefit, it’s important to remember to use supportive tones of voice. It’s easy for parents to forget, especially if they are feeling stressed, tired, or pressured themselves,” comments Dr. Netta Weinstein, the study’s lead author, in a release.
Teens were much more likely to respond to requests given in an encouraging manner that emphasized the adolescent’s right to self-expression and personal choice. This tone of voice was classified by researchers as “autonomy-supportive.”
“Adolescents likely feel more cared about and happier, and as a result they try harder at school, when parents and teachers speak in supportive rather than pressuring tones of voice,” Dr. Weinstein continues.
During the experimental portion of the study, each teen was randomly assigned to a group that would hear a mother of an adolescent saying a series of phrases in one of three different tones: controlling, neutral, or autonomy-supportive. The phrases each group heard were identical, with the only difference being the mom’s tone of voice.
Each mother recorded 30 different phrases, all centered around schoolwork. For example, “It’s time now to go to school,” “You will read this book tonight,” or “You will do well on this assignment.” After hearing all the sentences, each teen took a survey about how they would feel if their own mother had spoken to them in that way.
The findings of the experiment illustrate just how influential tone of voice can be when it comes to communicating with a teenager. Moreover, a mother’s tone of voice can have an impact on an adolescent’s relational, emotional, and behavioral reactions to an instruction or suggestion.
Most of the time, teens who listened to mothers making motivational statements in a controlling tone responded in an undesirable way. Conversely, a supportive tone of voice saw much more positive reactions among teens, even compared to mothers who used a neutral tone of voice.
“These results nicely illustrate how powerful our voice is and that choosing the right tone to communicate is crucial in all of our conversations,” says study co-author Professor Silke Paulmann.
Next, researchers would like to investigate how tone of voice affects teens’ physiological responses, such heart rate or perspiration.
The study is published in the scientific journal Developmental Psychology.