Listening to Drake, Cardi B and Ariana Grande with your teenage children can bring you closer together, new research reveals.
The battle over the car radio is a classic of American family war history.
But if parents and children can enjoy the same tunes, bobbing along just might work wonders for their relationships, new research from the University of Arizona suggests.
The study authors encourage parents to give Top 40 songs a try, and introduce their teenagers to older artists that have influenced pop, like David Bowie, if they want to ‘sync up’ with their kids.
Listening to music your teenage children like with them might help you get closer to your kids and stay closer to them, even after they move away to college, research suggests
Playing music for your baby while he or she is in the womb has long been encouraged, with research suggesting it can be good for brain development and hearing, and may be calming to the fetus.
Many mothers and fathers continue to use music to soothe their little ones, singing them lullabies to help them sleep.
And music classes for toddlers – often including their parents – have only become more popular in recent years.
But once children reach adolescence, music can easily go from a unifying part of family life to a divisive one.
When children are young they and their parents tend to ‘sing nursery rhymes together, when they’re driving in the car they listen to the same music, but once they get into adolescence, kids often listen to music on their headphones,’ says Dr Jake Harwood.
Dr Harwood studies music as a form of communication at the University of Arizona.
As he teaches his students, ‘music causes people to be synchronized. So, if you’re listening to music with a friend, you may end up moving in a synchronized way with them and that’s associated with liking them more,’ explains Dr Harwood.
Similarly, ‘if we walk in time with someone else, that increases our feelings of affiliation with them,’ he adds.
That sparked the curiosity of one of his students, Sandi Wallace, who is the first author of the new research on family relationships and music.
‘She generated the research idea that perhaps parents and kids who listen to music together might have a similar kind of phenomenon, and feel more synchronized and coordinated with each other,’ Dr Harwood explains.
The two surveyed college students about both the quality of their relationships with their parents and the music experiences they had shared with their mothers and fathers.
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Dr Harwood and Wallace also asked at what ages they had shared music with their families and what kinds of music they had listened to.
The more music that students had shared with their parents while growing up, the better their relationships were likely to be.
But timing and type of experiences made a difference, too.
‘Students who recalled musical sharing activities with their parents in adolescence had a stronger effect of feelings of coordination with parents and subsequently on the qualities of their relationships with them,’ Dr Harwood says.
It could be that college students remember those later-in-life experiences of music as more meaningful than earlier ones simply because they were more recent.
But, more likely, ‘we think it’s probably because parents and kids engaging in musical activity is sort of a special event’.
‘Moments where adolescents and parents jointly connect with music are less common, so they may be more impactful,’ says Dr Harwood.
‘These kinds of positive effects have to come from an organic experience,’ he postulates.
Finding that ‘joint connection’ through music means that parents and children may have to meet in the middle on their musical tastes.
He says that introducing his daughter to David Bowie was ‘the ideal situation,’ and he ‘went along with it and enjoyed some bits’ when she played him Top 40 songs.
But ‘forcing Top 40 on someone or saying ‘you’ve got to only listen to classical, because that’s the only good stuff,’ that’s not going to have the positive effect,’ Dr Harwood adds.
In addition to exploring this ‘syncing’ effect, he and Wallace also found that experiencing the emotions expressed in a song together helped to instill empathy between parent and child.
He says that bonding may come through sharing activities in general, like watching movies or playing sports together, but music is unique in its ability to sync or movements as welll as our emotions.
‘Music does both things,’ Dr Haywood says.