Talking to a teenager can sometimes feel like talking to a brick wall, and a new study confirms that’s how it is for parents.
Stanford University researchers used brain scans to find that teenagers’ brains start tuning out their mothers’ voices around the age of 13 because they no longer find it “uniquely rewarding.” Lead study author Daniel Abrams explains, “Just as an infant knows to tune into her mother’s voice, an adolescent knows to tune into novel voices. 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 you want to spend time with them. Your mind is increasingly sensitive to and attracted to these unfamiliar voices.”
Though the study found that in some ways, teens’ brains are more receptive to all voices, it also found that the reward circuits and the brain centers that prioritize important stimuli are more activated by unfamiliar voices than by those of their mothers. Senior study author Vinod Menon adds, “A child becomes independent at some point, and that has to be precipitated by an underlying biological signal. That’s what we’ve uncovered: This is a signal that helps teens engage with the world and form connections which allow them to be socially adept outside their families.”