Nina In New York: This Is Your Kid’s Brain On Mom

A lighthearted look at news, events, culture and everyday life in New York. The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
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By Nina Pajak

They say there’s nothing like a mother’s love. They also say that mother knows best and sees all. And then sometimes they say, “listen to your mother,” or “why don’t you listen to your mother?” and also, “what, you don’t call your mother anymore? That’s OK, I’ll be fine. I’m just your poor, poor, old mother. I only gave you life, I don’t need anything.”

Among the parents of toddlers, the tropes often focus on the idea that kids are naturally the worst behaved around their beloved moms. It’s okay if they’re contrary and impertinent and whiny and uncooperative with you, they say. That’s what you want. If they were terrible with teachers or other people, you’d have to worry. So the idea is that we cleaved our bodies and hearts and souls and lives for them, they work out their anger issues on us, it only gets worse as they age, and it’s a sign that they’re developmentally healthy. Fun! Motherhood can be fun.

But before we get too frustrated, here comes science! A (very small) study has recently found that our children’s brains light up all over the place when they hear the sounds of our specific voices. And they aren’t just brightening with recognition. According to U.S. News and World Report, the regions of brain function that seem to be affected by hearing one’s mother include:

  • Hearing,
  • Emotions,
  • Reward processing,
  • Processing information about the self,
  • Perceiving and processing the sight of faces.

Note the absence of bullet points like “obedience,” “listening,” “respectful speech” and “thoughtful consideration.”

Also, from the article:

“Children with stronger connections between these [aforementioned] brain regions when they heard their mother’s voice also had the strongest social communication abilities, the researchers said.”

Well, that’s good! Listen, we’re moms. We take what we can get and we’re proud of our little buggers’ brains no matter what. Short of being appreciated or hearing the word “please,” I’m thrilled to know that whenever I speak to my daughter I’m enhancing her social prowess and helping her to sharpen her ability to process information about herself. Not to mention what I’m clearly doing for her selective listening skills. “Reward processing” indeed. More hard proof that my corresponding threats are, in fact, falling on deaf ears.

Actually, the experiment was conducted using children between the ages of 7 and 12, so there’s no official word on how the brain’s response changes in other age groups. No doubt in the teen years there’s more activity in the regions that correspond with defiance, insolence, processing and then dismissing information, scoffing, and processing advice and then doing the precise opposite. As for the younger kids, I’m just dying to know. Come to think of it, in rereading the above list, I’d hazard a guess that the toddler brain lights up shockingly similarly to the teen counterpart. They don’t call them “threenagers” for nothing.

Yeah, they do. They call them “threenagers.” Don’t look at me, I don’t make this stuff up.

Nina Pajak is a writer living with her husband, daughter and dog in Queens. Connect with Nina on Twitter!

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