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Advice for parents of teens: It’s all in the way you say it

Parents should watch their tone of voice if they want cooperation from their teens, a recent study shows. [Adobe Stock photo]

Many parents of teenage kids will attest that it can seem impossible to get their teens to listen to – much less comply with – their requests. When it comes to asking a teenager to do something, a parent’s tone of voice is key to whether or not he or she will cooperate, according to a new study. Teens are much less likely to respond to a parent’s request if it is made using a controlling, stern or “pressurizing” tone of voice, British researchers found.

The study included more than 1,000 14- and 15-year-olds, with about an equal number of boys and girls participating. They were randomly assigned to groups that heard 30 identically worded messages delivered by mothers. One group heard those messages delivered in an authoritative tone of voice, another in a neutral tone, and a third in an “autonomy-supportive” tone.

After hearing the messages, each teen answered questions about how they would feel if their own mother had spoken to them in that particular way, and whether they were likely to do what she asked.

The results were that even though the words spoken to each group were exactly the same, the teens were far more likely to respond to instructions that conveyed a sense of support and encouragement, and were also more likely to feel a sense of emotional closeness with the mothers. By contrast, teens spoken to in a controlling manner conveyed a range of negative emotions in response, and were also far less likely to comply.

While they apply mainly to the parent-child relationship, these findings could also be relevant in the classroom, where use of more motivational language could impact both the learning and well-being of students, the researchers said.

The study was recently published in the journal Developmental Psychology.

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