'Are you even listening to me?' If it feels like your teenager is tuning you out, they probably are, but research proves it’s not personal, just science

If you feel like you're being ignored by your teenager, you're not imagining it – but know that they're not doing it on purpose

Mother trying to talk to her teenage daughter who won't listen
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Mums of teenagers will be familiar with this scenario: you’re trying to have a conversation with your son or daughter and you just know that nothing is going in. 

We hear you – parenting teens is like driving without a roadmap, and even when you’ve vowed to stick to your New Year’s resolution to improve the parent-teen relationship, it can still feel like you’re getting nowhere. You might find that this problem is at its worst when you ask your teen to do something, like ‘empty the dishwasher’ or ‘do your homework’, but a new study has finally given us an answer as to why. 

The research from Stanford Medical School, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, found that children around the 13-year-old mark no longer find their mothers’ voices "uniquely rewarding". This is because, during adolescence, kids’ brains become more responsive to new voices than to their mother’s voice, as part of their brain associated with reward processing becomes more active. Ergo, they tune out and stop listening when their mothers are speaking.

The researchers also referenced an earlier study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) which found that when babies and younger children heard their mothers’ voices, their brains lit up, meaning they did find it rewarding, so it seems that as your child grows up, the opposite is happening.

Son not listening to mother at home

Teenage son not listening to his mother's voice at home

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You can breathe a sigh of relief though, because the researchers pointed out that this is a natural part of growing up, as teenagers seek to gain independence.

"Just as an infant knows to tune into her mother's voice, an adolescent knows to tune into novel voices," lead study author and clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Dr. Daniel Abrams, told the Stanford Medicine News Center. "As a teen, you don't know you're doing this. You're just 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."

GoodtoKnow's Deputy Editor and mum-of-three, Heidi Scrimgeour, is also experiencing teens growing into their personalities. She said: "The news that a teen is wired to filter out their mother's voice around the age of 13 really made me smile because I'm pretty sure that's about the time that my teenage sons stopped calling me 'Mum' and started referring to me as 'Bruh' and I'm pretty sure this is why they're redrawing the boundaries around whose opinions matter most.

"And while it can be quite a shock to the maternal system to realise that your voice is no longer the one your kids are most attuned to, I'm here to say that it can also be a pretty wonderful chapter in your family life. Suddenly they're inspired by other voices in their lives, which explains wanting to go vegan or listening to rap music when you'd rather poke yourself in the eye than entertain either possibility.

And while it can be quite a shock to the maternal system to realise that your voice is no longer the one your kids are most attuned to, I'm here to say that it can also be a pretty wonderful chapter in your family life.

Deputy Editor and mum-of-three Heidi Scrimgeour

"Watching your teen develop their own interests and opinions is by far one of the best parts of parenthood. Not without its challenges, of course, but know that if they start calling you 'Bruh' or show less interest in what you have to say, it's not really about you at all. It's about them feeling ready to start making their own mark on the world and that, ultimately, means you must be doing something very right." Now you know it's just the teenage brain beginning to form, it doesn't make it any less difficult or frustrating when they haven't listened to something you've said, so the next time you're running out of patience, try to remember that it’s not personal, just science.

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Daniella Gray
Family News & Wellbeing Writer

From building healthy family relationships to self-care tips for mums and parenting trends - Daniella also covers postnatal workouts and exercises for kids. After gaining a Print Journalism BA Hons degree and NCTJ Diploma in Journalism at Nottingham Trent University, Daniella started writing for Health & Wellbeing and co-hosted the Walk to Wellbeing podcast. She has also written for Stylist, Natural Health, The Sun UK and Fit & Well. In her free time, Daniella loves to travel, try out new fitness classes and cook for family and friends.