Family & Education

Mothers with 'controlling voice' fail to persuade teenagers

Family argument Image copyright Getty Images

Mothers who talk to their teenage children in a "controlling tone of voice" are more likely to start an argument than get a positive response, according to researchers.

The Cardiff University study examined the responses of 14 and 15-year-olds to instructions given to them in different ways of speaking.

It showed that mothers wanting to persuade teenagers to co-operate got better results when they sounded "supportive" rather than when they applied pressure.

The researchers said that in terms of young people's behaviour there has been little evidence about the impact of "tone of voice", rather than the words or actions of parents.

'Stressed' parents

The study used classic set-piece family arguments - such as trying to get a teenager to do their homework or to get ready for school in the morning.

In the experiment, more than 1,000 youngsters, aged 14 and 15, were subjected to the same instructions delivered in different styles.

The research, published in the journal Developmental Psychology, used recordings of mothers but did not examine whether there would be similar reactions to fathers.

It found that mothers using a "controlling" voice that tried to pressurise a teenager had a counter-productive effect, raising the youngsters' hackles and creating a negative response.

A "neutral" voice generated a broadly neutral reaction, neither motivating nor making teenagers more defensive.

But a warmer, more "supportive" voice that tried to cajole and encourage rather than confront, was the most successful way of getting teenagers to carry out the request.

"If parents want conversations with their teens to have the most benefit, it's important to remember to use supportive tones of voice," said report author Netta Weinstein.

"It's easy for parents to forget, especially if they are feeling stressed, tired, or pressured themselves."

Co-author Silke Paulmann, from the University of Essex's Department of Psychology, said the results showed "how powerful our voice is".

"Choosing the right tone to communicate is crucial in all of our conversations," said Prof Paulmann.