As a teen-focused therapist one of the most common things I hear from parents is “my teen won’t talk to me.” Parents want nothing more than to know what their teen is thinking and feeling. On the other hand, one of the most common things I hear from teens is “they don’t listen”, “they don’t understand,” or “they just yell at me.”
Why is there such a different perspective? It is hard for parents to see their teen in pain. Parents often tend to go into “fix it” mode. They give unwarranted advice, discuss how they “would handle things.” They end up trying to problem-solve the emotion away leaving the teen feeling unheard. So what to do instead? Validate! In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan identified 6 Levels of validation. She believed it is impossible to over-estimate the importance of validation.
Validation: It is that simple.
Validation is the acknowledgement of another person’s perspective and feelings. Often parents mistake it for complete agreement. This is not true. For example, if your teen says “I hate you, you are the worst parents ever,” you may not be inclined to agree with this. However, you can validate it! You can say “Given the situation (being told no), I can understand that you feel this way.”
The first level is being present. When was the last time you gave 100% of your attention to your teen? There are so many ways to be present with your teen, just sitting with them through intense emotions, hugging them when they cry, listening without giving advice, turning off your cellphone and other distractions, etc. The more present you are with your teen the more they will come to you.
The second level is accurate reflection. This is when you show your teen you were listening by verbalizing what you heard them say. Accurate reflection may look like “So I hear you saying..” or “It sounds like you feel…” It is important to remember not to just repeat back their wording verbatim.
The third level of validation is reading your teen’s behavior and guessing what they might be feeling. Not everyone is in touch with their feelings so it may be difficult for your teen to tell you what they feel. Based on what they share and how they behave, you can guess at what they might be feeling. For example, “I’m guessing you were hurt when they didn’t invite you” is a level three validation.
The fourth level is understanding your teen’s behavior in terms of their history and biology. Your teens past experience influence their thoughts and feelings today. If your teen fell from a tree as a child, they may not like heights. An example of a level four validation would be “given your past experience I can understand why you would feel that way.”
The fifth level is normalizing or recognizing emotional reactions. Many teens worry that they are the only one that feels the way they do. Knowing that other people would feel similarly in the same situation helps to reduce the painful reaction. For example, “Of course you’re worried. Taking your driver’s test is scary for a lot of people.”
Level six is radical genuineness. This is when you understand the emotion on a deep level. This is treating your teen as a “real” person with “real” feelings. Radical genuineness meets your teen with love and support demonstrating belief that they are capable of managing their own feelings.
What can validation do?
Validation is a core parenting skill in DBT it encourages your teen to talk to you and communicate with you more openly. Validation helps to build trust and shows your teen that you value what they have to say. Validation communicates respect for your teen. Validation takes practice, so be patient with yourself as you are starting a new form of communication.
Need help communicating with your teen? We can help! Give us a call today at Mindful Healing at (860) 387-5689 or click here to schedule your FREE parent screening.