How to Get Your Teen to Talk to You

Now here’s a way to persuade your teen to talk to you.

When girls stressed by a test talked with their moms, stress hormones dropped and comfort hormones rose, according to a study by the University of Wisconsin. When they used IM, nothing happened.

This research follows an earlier study by the University showing that both phone conversations with mom and face-to-face talks triggered similar hormonal responses: A drop in cortisol, which is generally linked to stress, and a rise in oxytocin, which is linked to pleasure. For the latest study, published in the January issue of Evolution and Human Behavior, they wanted to identify the source of that comforting. Was it something mom said? Was it simply the sound of her voice? What would happen if the tone and verbal cues were deleted and all that was left was the content of the message? What made the difference?

The girls were asked to solve difficult math problems. After finishing, they were assigned to one of four groups. One didn’t talk at all to their mothers, another talked by phone, a third experienced a face-to-face conversation, and another communicated by instant message. The researchers then measured their cortisol and oxytocin levels, and compared them to pre-test measurements.

Girls who heard their mother’s voice, either in person or on the phone, were consoled. But among girls who used IM, hormone levels barely changed. Translated onto a screen, mom’s words seemingly lost their comforting power.

According to Seltzer, the results suggest that mom’s voice — its tones and intonations and rhythms, known formally as prosodics — trigger soothing effects, rather than what she specifically says.

However, it’s also possible that IM altered conversational dynamics. Maybe moms who heard their daughters’ voices were better able to detect stress and respond to it. On a screen, “I’m fine” is a fairly one-dimensional statement. Heard aloud, it can convey something very different.

Moms, how do you help your teens de-stress?