Want a better relationship with your kids? Crank the music

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

Listening to the Frozen soundtrack on repeat for years may have been bad for your sanity, but it might just improve your future relationship with your kids. That's according to a new study, which found that children who grow up listening to music with their parents report having better relationships with their folks as young adults. 

Now that's a finding we like the sound of (pun intended). 

As part of the research, published in the Journal of Family Communicationresearchers questioned a group of young adults about how often they and their parents listened to music together, played musical instruments together or attended concerts together. The team was interested in the adults' memories of these experiences between the ages of eight and 13 and then ages 14 and over. They were also asked for their perception of their current relationship with their folks.

And the results were overwhelmingly positive. While shared musical experiences at all ages was linked to better perceptions of parent-child relationships as young adults, the effect was biggest for experiences that occurred during the teen years. So if you took your adolescent to see Ed Sheeran recently you can give yourself an extra special pat on the back. 

"If you have little kids, and you play music with them, that helps you be closer to them, and later in life will make you closer to them," said study co-author Professor Jake Harwood of the findings. "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."

Professor Harwood explains that when it comes to our littlies, "musical activity" is fairly common, in the form or lullabies and nursery rhymes. "With teenagers, it's less common, and when things are less common you might find bigger effects, because when these things happen, they're super important."

So why does music have such a positive impact on the parent-child relationship?

Professor Harwood and co-author Sandi Wallace propose two key factors: coordination and empathy.

"Synchronisation, or coordination, is something that happens when people play music together or listen to music together," Professor Harwood says. More specifically, if you're listening to music with your kids, you might also be dancing or singing together. And according to the researchers, data shows that engaging in these "synchronised activities, "causes you to like one another more".

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Well, that sounds like win-win.

But empathy also plays a role. "A lot of recent research has focused on how emotions can be evoked through music, and how that can perpetuate empathy and empathic responses toward your listening partner," says Professor Harwood.

And the best part is you don't have to spend big on musical instruments or start brainstorming family band names. Based on the study's findings, simply listening to music in the car with your kids can have a bigger impact than more formal shared music experiences.

As such, the authors' advice is clear: increase the amount of musical interactions you share with your kids, especially your teens.

"For people who are just becoming parents or have small children, they may be thinking long term about what they want their relationship with their kids to be," Ms Wallace says. "It's not to say that this is going to be the prescription for a perfect relationship, but any parent wants to find ways to improve their relationship with their child and make sure that it's maintained long term, and this may be one way it can be done."