"Look at me when I'm talking to you!"

How many parents have uttered this exact phrase?  I know I have.  And 99 percent of the time, it's used during some sort of conflict - when a child's eyes cast in another direction indicate to a parent that they are not listening. 

But a new study published recently in Psychological Science found that too much eye contact may make actually things worse during an argument.  The study looked at public speakers and how successful they were on convincing others to agree with a controversial opinion.  But its results can certainly be helpful to parents too - particularly those who are trying to convince their tween that it is time for bed or their teenager that it is not safe to text and drive.  

These are conversations that kids don't want to listen to, and so they may often look down or away -- but don't assume that they aren't listening.  And if you want to make your point , experts now say that you shouldn't try to force the eye contact.  

In the study, participants watched videos of speakers discussing controversial opinions and were told to focus on either the presenters' mouths or eyes. Researchers found that study participants were less likely to agree with the speakers when they were forced to look at their eyes.  

Bottom line: If they already agreed with the speaker, eye contact indicated trust.  But when they disagreed, they were less receptive to the points made by a speaker who made too much eye contact.

So the next time you're in a heated argument with your kids - whether it's about boyfriends or screen time or table manners - don't force the eye contact.  If you want your kids to feel less threatened - and more receptive to your argument - let their gaze wander.  Trust me, they are still listening.  And they may just be finding a way to agree with what you say.

Related posts on MNN:

Want to win an argument with your kids? Look away.
New research finds that too much eye contact may make a listener less receptive to what you have to say.