To this day, I can't hear the first few notes "My Girl" without thinking of my dad and hours spent listening to the The Temptations' Greatest Hits CD on repeat while cruising in his car—and I'm reminded what a special bond we share.
Sure, I wasn't always this complimentary of our relationship during my teenage years. But, as research published this month in the Journal of Family Communication shows, music does help bridge the gap between parents and their growing children in meaningful ways.
"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," says co-author Jake Harwood, professor and head of the University of Arizona Department of Communications. "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."
For the study, researchers surveyed young adults about their experiences listening to music with their parents during their childhood and teenage years. The young adults also reported on the current state of their relationship with their parents—and there was a clear connection between positive bonds and shared experiences listening to music.
This was especially true of people who continued to listen to music with their parents as teenagers, suggesting the importance of encouraging everyone to listen to the same song while in the car.
"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," says Sandi Wallace, co-author of the study and graduate student at the University of Arizona. "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."
As for why music has such a powerful effect on positive relationships, the researchers hypothesize it has to do with the way tunes encourage people to synchronize (either with dancing or singing together) and promote healthy conversations. "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 Wallace.
Whatever the reason, the takeaway is clear: Turning up the music and listening along with your kids is an easy, fun way to build your relationship. After all, it's probably no coincidence that one of my fondest memories from my wedding day is dancing along to "My Girl" with my dad one more time.