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Can Music Help Parents Enjoy Better Relationships With Their Kids?


Anyone with teenagers knows that during a trip of any length your kids are going to spend a large chunk of the journey with their headphones in, listening to their own music. While some see this as a good way to keep the kids quiet and manageable, it may also be a missed opportunity to really connect with them. According to a new study conducted at the University of Arizona, parents who shared musical experiences with their children enjoyed much stronger relationships as a result. This was particularly true of adolescents as they enter young adulthood.

Parenting and music

Study co-author Jake Harwood, professor and head of the UA Department of Communication suggests that playing music with younger children helps parents bond more closely with them, and that this continues later in life. "If you have teenagers and you can successfully listen to music together or share musical experiences with them, that has an even stronger effect on your future relationship and the child's perception of the relationship in emerging adulthood." Researchers asked a group of participants with an average age of 21 to recall memories of musical experiences shared with their parents. The participants were asked to recount experiences shared between the ages of 8 and 13, and then to share memories of 14 years and up. The group was also asked to express their perception of their relationship with their parents currently. While all age levels consistently reported positive musical experiences with their parents, the effect was decidedly pronounced throughout the adolescent years.

Sandi Wallace, an undergraduate student of Harwood's and the lead author of the study, says she wanted to determine if the power and social influence of music could positively affect the parent/child relationship. By comparing the other ways the group spent time with their parents while growing up, it was very clear that the introduction of shared music had a unique effect on their relationships. Wallace and Harwood identified two factors that most seemed to explain the connection between shared musical experiences and greater parental bonding with teen and pre-teen children.

The first factor was coordination. Also known as synchronization, it's something that happens when people play or listen to music together. When children listen to music with their parents, it can lead to activities like singing or dancing together, which can cause them to like each other more. The other factor was empathy. Recent research focuses on emotional response to music, and how sharing music with someone can facilitate a greater empathic connection between listeners. Thankfully, the shared musical experience doesn't have to be complicated or require musical talent. Listening to music in the car can impact a parent-child relationship far more than playing a band together, for instance.

Clearly music can be a bridge between parents and children who may tend to become distant as they approach and enter puberty. Music can act as both activity and catalyst for even greater interaction, and really act to strengthen the emotional bonds between parents and their children. For parents who are coping with the effects or aftereffects of divorce on their children, music can also be a great way to get older children to open up about what they're feeling.

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