KIDS
May 7, 2018

Turn Up the Radio

The bonding that happens when parents and kids listen to music together pays lasting dividends.

It's natural to share music with your children when they're young. Parents use lullabies to soothe infants and cue kid mixes to burn off toddlers' energy. Many children grow up dancing to their parents' music, but as they head into their teen years, the earbuds come out, and they develop their own musical tastes. This can mean the end of a parent-child musical connection.

Sharing music with your children doesn't have to end in adolescence, however; and it's best if it doesn't, a study finds. The next time you get in the car with your teenager, ask them what they're listening to through their earbuds. Then turn on the radio try to find some music to listen to together. It may take a bit of negotiation, but connecting over shared music is one of the best ways to bond, and the experience carries into adulthood, researchers from the University of Arizona report. You may even find you like Adele, Kendrick Lamar and Beyonce; they may come to appreciate the Talking Heads, Willie Nelson and Robert Cray.

Connecting over shared music is one of the best ways to bond, and the experience carries into adulthood.

“With young kids, musical activity is fairly common — singing lullabies, doing nursery rhymes, ” said researcher Jake Harwood. “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.”

Sharing music can put you on the same wavelength, literally, even if you don't agree on every artist or song. “Synchronization, or coordination, is something that happens when people play music together or listen to music together,” Harwood said. “If you play music with your parent or listen to music with your parents, you might do synchronized activities like dancing or singing together, and data shows that that causes you to like one another more.”

College students were asked to recall their memories of how they listened to music with their parents as children between the ages of 8 and 13 and as teenagers, 14 and older. They reported whether they went to concerts together, played music together or just listened together. Participants also described how they saw their relationship with their parents as young adults.

Students who remembered more shared musical experiences with their parents at any age tended to rate their relationship with the parents more highly than kids who didn't. Casual shared experiences, such as listening to the car radio, were more important than playing music together, and the impact of listening to music together was even more powerful during adolescence.

It's not just the shared beat. Listening to music can create shared emotions, foster empathy and inspire meaningful conversations.

The study appears in the Journal of Family Communication.

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