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Does Your Family Suffer From Silent Home Syndrome?

In the search for relaxation and quiet, many American households suffer from “Silent Home Syndrome”–a lack of the shared experience of music that is so important to everyone’s health and wellbeing.

Depending on your generation and your family’s musical inclinations, you may have grown up with the sounds of Sinatra floating through the air or the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, Garth Brooks, Kanye West, or Nirvana played at top volume. But now? Chances are your walls don’t vibrate to the sound of music.

Even if you and the rest of your household listen to music today, you’re more likely to listen on your own rather than together. The combination of expectations for privacy and independence within a family, the addictive ability to disappear into social media, and the prevalence of personal devices for music have led to the rise of the “Silent Home,” according to Daniel Levitin, author of This is Your Brain on Music.

In a 2017 study by Sonos, researchers discovered that 60% of adults in the nine countries in the survey said they listen to less music now than when they were younger. And when they are listening, 44% said that most of the time they’re alone or listening with headphones.

The Sonos Silent Home Assessment study also found:

  • 71% of Americans report a shortage of meaningful conversations at home.
  • 54% of Americans said they spend more time interacting with technology than each other.
  • 79% admit to not playing music when entertaining.

Why Music Matters

Music can be a powerful stress reducer and an important part of physical, mental and emotional health, says Scott Glassman, director of the Master of Applied Positive Psychology program of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, and author of A Happier You: A Seven-Week Program to Transform Negative Thinking into Positivity & Resilience.

“Listening together as a family can have a powerful impact on relationships,” says Glassman. “One study found that adolescents who shared experiences such as listening to music, attending concerts, and playing instruments with their parents had better relationships with them.”

Music creates empathy, connection, and concern for people within a family and for humans as a species, which in turn can lead to caring about the environment we live in and the health of the planet.

“When you listen to music together, there’s a synchronization and coordination of emotions that helps everyone try harder to see each other’s perspective,” says Glassman.

In its study, Sonos found that when playing music out loud, people are 14% more excited, 24% less irritable, 22% more active, and 25% more inspired compared to people who don’t play music out loud.

“Listening to music out loud together modulates levels of serotonin, a feel-good hormone in the brain,” Levitin told Sonos.

Does Your Family Suffer From Silent Home Syndrome

Tuning out by listening to music on headphones can be a meaningful experience that’s valuable to our mental health, but it can also be isolating, says Suzanne Hanser, a professor in the music therapy department at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and president of the International Association for Music and Medicine.

“Music can calm us down, help us relax, or energize us,” Hanser says. “When it’s hard to express how we feel, music can sometimes say it for us, such as the authentic despair in Billie Eilish’s songs.”

In music therapy, there’s also a technique to match your music with your mood and to listen to music to change your mood, says Hanser.

“Listening to music can be used as a method to increase mindfulness, especially in children,” says Glassman. “It increases self-awareness, develops attention span, and can lead to more resilience, and self-reliance.”

Individually listening to music has its benefits, especially if family members don’t share the same tastes, says Glassman. He says adolescents often use music as part of their journey to autonomy from their parents, but he also suggests asking teenagers to serve as DJs to enhance family engagement.

“Music helps kids cope by regulating their emotions and to claim their own space,” says Glassman. “Parents should never discourage private listening to music because it helps kids and especially adolescents focus, and develop their identity and their creativity.”

Both private and communal listening to music should be encouraged, Glassman says.

“Music can bring people together and create common interests and bonds,” says Hanser. “Our favorite piece of music says a lot about who we are and what we believe. Music can bridge gaps between people.”

In her work as a music therapist, Hanser sees how the simple act of having someone share a favorite song can be meaningful.

“It can be especially valuable for teenagers who have difficulty communicating with their parents and who have different tastes,” she says.

Hanser says music can be used to reveal emotions and create conversations around why someone likes a particular song and how it speaks to them.

“When family members share music they like, it can be a remarkable way to communicate,” says Hanser. “It’s a safe way to project emotions like anger or despair, because music can be a container for those emotions.”

The Sonos survey found that households that listened to music out loud the most spent an average of 3 hours and 13 minutes more together per week, compared to those who listened the least. In addition, researchers found that people listening to music out loud the most are on average 7% more satisfied with the relationships within their household than households without music playing.

Breaking the Silence

There’s nothing wrong with listening deeply to music alone or with headphones, but Hanser says “we’re losing out if we don’t share our open space and share our music and talk about it to connect with other people.”

To bring back communal listening to music, a place to start is to play music during dinner, suggests Hanser.

“You don’t want to do anything forced or formal, you want to naturally share music because it’s a way to get away from being isolated from each other,” says Hanser.

The next step, she suggests, is to lose your earbuds and intentionally share your music.

“Maybe try asking your family members to play just one song from their playlist that they think you might like,” says Hanser. “It shouldn’t come across as ‘tonight we have to listen to each other’s music,’ but from a place of genuine interest.”

After that, you can take it a step further, and ask someone to create a playlist for you of music they think you might like, she suggests.

“You can also try adding rituals such as playing music before bed, in the morning, or while cooking," says Hanser. “Listening to music in the car can be a great experience, but it has to be part of your shared family values, that you share what you like and take turns. This can be a great way to create memories, too, so that when family members hear the song in the future it will bring back the moment.”

Glassman recommends seeing a concert or a musical together as a family and making an effort to discover new music together.

“But it should never be coerced,” says Glassman. “Everyone should have a chance to listen to what they want, how they want. You need to find a balance between private and shared listening.”


Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Home Buyer Campaign Sponsors: Whirlpool, Vivint, myQ, Sonos and Jinko Solar . These companies take sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource intensive.