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Hey Mom, Watch Your Tone: The Importance of Tone

If you’re at your wit’s end trying to get your teen to focus on their homework or simply brush their teeth, you might want to switch up your tone of voice.

Bossy Tone of Voice Doesn’t Work

A new study says teens are less likely to comply when moms use a controlling tone of voice.

In a recent study out of Cardiff University in Wales, researchers found that teenagers are less likely to follow commands when mothers issued them using a controlling or bossy tone.

In the study, which included more than 1,000 teens, ages 14 to 15, participants listened to identical messages read by mothers of adolescents in either a controlling, supportive, or neutral tone. The messages focused on academics with statements such as, “You will read this book tonight.”

After listening to these messages, the teens were asked to rate their emotions—whether they’d feel close to their mother if she spoke to them like that and how cooperative they’d be with her request. What the researchers found was that when the mothers issued commands in an autonomy-supportive tone—a tone that encourages the teen and supports their choice in the matter at hand—they were more likely to spark a positive reaction among the teens interviewed.

The study’s results issue an important lesson for parents of teens, says Dr. Samantha Schilling, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not involved in the study. “It turns out, it’s not just about the specific words that you choose; it’s also about how you say them,” Schilling says.

Positive feedback is also important in raising teenagers, especially for teens with behavior issues. “When children are doing a good job, let them know,” she says. “The more you give those praises, the less difficult it is when you’re giving a critique or command.”

Sarah Lindenfeld Hall, a mom to a tween and teen, is a longtime journalist and parenting writer whose work has appeared in, Mashable,, and EatingWell.

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