If your teenager won’t cooperate, Mom, it might just be your tone of voice.
Speaking in a controlling tone unleashes a range of negative emotions in your son or daughter and pushes him or her away, researchers warn.
For the study of more than 1,000 14- and 15-year-olds, British researchers asked mothers to give their teens instructions using the same words, but different tones of voice — controlling, supportive and neutral.
Phases included: “It’s time now to go to school,” “you will read this book tonight,” and “you will do well on this assignment.”
Teens are more likely to respond positively when instructions convey encouragement and support for self-expression and choice, according to study lead author Netta Weinstein, from the School of Psychology at Cardiff University in Wales.
“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,” Weinstein said in a university news release.
These findings might also be useful for teachers who are trying to motivate students.
“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,” Weinstein said.
The study showed that mothers’ tone of voice can affect teens’ emotional, relational and behavioral responses.
“These results nicely illustrate how powerful our voice is and that choosing the right tone to communicate is crucial in all of our conversations,” said study co-author Silke Paulmann, a professor of psychology at the University of Essex in England.
The report was recently published in the journal Developmental Psychology.
Learn more about teen behavior and mental health at the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health.