The 1 Biological Reason Teens Literally Can't Listen To Their Mother

It's not just you.
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Ah, the terrible teens. You shift from chirpy childhood wonder to soulful pondering; from fun glitter face paint to “real” makeup; and crucially, you go from hanging onto your mother’s every word to mostly tuning poor mam out.

Well, according to a 2022 paper, it seems it’s not your fault if your child is doing this to you ― and it’s likely not theirs either.

The paper, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that once children hit their teen years, the part of their brain that responds to their mother’s voice may physically change (woah).

What? How?

Researchers used brain imaging to look at the neural activity of kids and teens when listening to their mum talk.

They were looking at a part of the brain associated with reward and social valuation systems (which may determine who your mind decides is “worth” listening to).

They found that for young children, that part of the brain was more activated by their mother speaking to them than it was by people outside of their family chatting.

But for teens, “older adolescents showed the opposite effect with increased activity for nonfamilial compared with mother’s voice.”

That meant the same part of the brain was activated more when someone outside of their family spoke up than it was by their mothers ― meaning their brains might well find it more “worthwhile” to listen to strangers than their mum, causing them to tune her out.

The shift appears to happen between the ages of 13 to 14.

Why does that happen?

The paper says that while parent-child interactions are crucial for young kids’ development, by the time they’re teens, “individuals increasingly engage with social targets outside the family.”

“Importantly, adolescents show increased sensitivity to interactions with nonfamilial (NF) social targets and seek these individuals out for social support.”

They add, “it is thought that this shift in social orientation is adaptive and represents a key component of healthy development that prepares children for their journey toward independence.”

In other words, I’m sure your kid would listen to you if they could ― but there’s a chance their brain tells them they can’t. If you look back to your own adolescence, I’m sure that checks out...