For any parent stressed about how to foster a healthy bond with their children, a new study from the University of Arizona recently published in Journal of Family Communication suggests there may be a downright easy way to improve your relationship with your kids: by listening to music with them.
Researchers asked a group of young adults with an average age of 21 how frequently they listened to music, went to concerts, or played musical instruments with their parents during their childhoods. The study-authors recorded how many of these experiences the participants had with their parents between the ages of 8 and 13 years old and 14 or older, and then asked them to describe their relationships with their moms and dads.
"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."
Interestingly enough, they found that the participants who shared more musical experiences with their parents had a better relationship with them once they entered adulthood.
Jake Harwood, professor and head of the University of Arizona's Department of Communication and the study's co-author, confirmed that sharing these types of experiences with your children may have positive long-term affects on your relationship.
"If you have little kids and you play music with them that helps you be closer to them, and [it] will make you closer to them later in life," he said. "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."
The study controlled for other common types of parent-child bonding activities and looked at two benchmarks: coordination and empathy.
Synchronization, or coordination, is something that happens when people play music together or listen to music together. 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.
Sandi Wallace, the other study-author, points out that there's an emotional component to listening to music with children. "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."
Harwood also warned parents that while listening to music with little kids is usually part of their daily routine, it gets increasingly more difficult to bond over music as children get older.
"With young kids, musical activity is fairly common — singing lullabies, doing nursery rhymes," Harwood said. "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."
And while making it a point to jam out with your child every once in a while is far from a cure-all for parent-child relationships, it's definitely still worth noting the positive correlation.
"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," said Wallace. "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."