Examining Mother-Teenager Bonds: One Key Factor That Hinders Communication

Don't underestimate the influence your home environment has on the strength and cohesion of your family relationships.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | July 14, 2023

A new study published in the Journal of Family Psychology provides valuable insight into the impact of household chaos on healthy family communication.

Led by psychologist Jackie Nelson of the University of Texas, the research reveals that chaotic home environments have a negative influence on family interactions, specifically leading to reduced sharing between adolescents and their mothers.

Nelson emphasizes the detrimental effects of chaotic home environments, stating that they create unpredictability and tension, which compromise overall family functioning.

"Stressful experiences, such as living in a chaotic home environment, can deplete parents' regulatory abilities, making it more difficult for them to remain responsive and positively engaged with children over the course of the day," says Nelson.

It is crucial to recognize the far-reaching consequences of chaotic households on children. In the absence of proper outlets and parental guidance, children may experience:

  • Increased susceptibility to substance abuse
  • Diminished self-esteem
  • Self-doubt
  • Inhibited communication about sensitive topics due to a lack of trust

To delve deeper into this phenomenon, the study examined the conversations of 109 mother-adolescent pairs over the course of a week, taking into account factors such as age, gender and financial status.

The study focused specifically on adolescents' dialogue and disclosure with their mothers and the impact household chaos had on these interactions.

The study highlights the significance of adolescent disclosure — referring to the amount of information teenagers voluntarily share with their parents without any prompting. Nelson found that "spontaneous disclosure" is a key factor informing parents' awareness of their teens' activities and life, as teenagers may withhold information or lie when conversations are initiated by parents.

Household chaos — characterized by confusion, disorganization, noise, unpredictability, clutter and a lack of routine — decreased attention and engagement between mothers and teenagers, which led to less spontaneous disclosure and sharing.

Mothers felt that their adolescents were less responsive during chaotic periods, resulting in reduced sharing from the adolescents.

To foster healthy communication and strengthen relationships, reducing chaos in the household and promoting an organized, predictable, calm and supportive environment is essential.

The good news is that the path to a more supportive and organized environment isn't out of reach for most families. One can go about creating an organized space at home by:

A predictable and put-together space can contribute significantly towards positive interactions between parents and adolescents.

The study also reported that girls tended to share more information overall than boys. Additionally, there was a slight decrease in adolescent disclosure as the week progressed.

Going forward, Nelson plans to conduct follow-up research in two areas.

  1. Communication topics. Which topics are the most and least talked about between mothers and their teenage children?
  2. Family dynamics. How do family size and culture affect dialogue and spontaneous sharing between mothers and teenagers?

A full interview with Jackie Nelson discussing her new research can be found here: A disorganized household is a breeding ground for troubled mother-daughter relationships