The Most Important Thing Parents Can Do…
“I just don’t know how to get her to talk to me.” It’s a common statement I hear from parents. Parents desiring that their child talks to them more. Parents would love for their teen to share with them what is happening at school or with their friends.
Developmentally, teens are at a stage when they naturally become more distant from their parents. They are working on their own identity – who they are becoming. They are thinking differently and may be trying new things. All the reason why parents hope for more communication from their teen.
So, what is the most important thing parents can do…? Well, one way to foster communication from your teen is through validation. Validation is essentially letting your teen know that what they think and feel makes sense given their perspective. Validation does not necessarily mean that you agree with what they are saying (in fact, you may feel the opposite), but are working to understand them. Validation also helps improve their self-esteem and can help calm them when they are feeling emotionally distressed.
Think of this common scenario…
You’ve had a long day at work and as you pull into the driveway, you notice that the trash was never taken out this morning. When you walk inside your home, the house is messy and the crockpot with the meal that you have prepared this morning for dinner was never plugged in. Your spouse is at the table with your youngest child working on homework. You share with them your frustrations of the day including the lack of dinner. They respond by saying, “That’s really nothing to get upset about.” Or, “Why didn’t you plug the crockpot in?”
Imagine how that feels. Likely, it either intensifies the stressful feeling even more, or it makes you doubt your own feelings and wonder if you really should be getting upset over the situation. This is a perfect example of invalidation.
Imagine if the response was different. Imagine if your spouse had said, “I would be frustrated too” or “I’m sorry you had such a bad day.” These validating statements can help a person feel heard and understood. When a person feels understood and heard it leads to calmer feelings and sometimes, a greater desire to share.
How can you validate your teen?
How can you validate a teen when you don’t agree or understand their experience? How can you validate a teen when you completely oppose their viewpoint? How do you validate your teen when it invalidates your experience?
The first thing to know and to remember is that validation does not equate agreement. Nor does validation mean that you are condoning a person’s behaviors, actions or feelings. You can validate a person’s feelings, but not necessarily agree with them. And you can communicate this to your teen.
Your teen does want to hear from you although they may not act like it. Research consistently demonstrates that teens rely on their parents’ perspective for many of the bigger decisions in life. This includes drugs, alcohol, premarital sex, and college. All the more reason to make sure that the lines of communication between you and your teen remain open.
Validating your teen has many benefits to you and your teen’s relationship. When you validate your teen, it shows your teen that you are listening to them. It also demonstrates that you are trying to understand where they are coming from in a nonjudgmental way. Lastly, it can decrease intensity within conflicts.
Here are some basic steps for validation:
1. Stay mindful and present as the person is talking to you. Minimize distractions. If you absolutely can’t pay full attention to your teen, let them know and find another time in the immediate future you can listen (e.g., “In 5 minutes this will be done and then I can listen to you. I want to be certain you have my full attention.”)
2. As the person is talking, look for an emotion that may match what the person is feeling given the scenario.
3. Look for ways of how what they are saying makes sense given their life circumstances and what they have experienced recently.
4. Try to share what you believe they are feeling without judgment (e.g., “You look really hurt by this.” Or “You look very angry.”)
Using validation is one of the first steps to improving communication between you and your teen. When your teen feels heard, they are likely to talk and share, which is exactly what parents are hoping for.