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Communicating with your Teen Using Validation

by Jeanette Said
Sad daughter with mother
Teen and Parent

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with your teenager, and after seemingly endless fidgeting, blank stares, grunting and defensive responses, you found yourself frustrated, fuming and eventually found your conversation had turned into a screaming match? You are not alone. Teenagers are notoriously uncommunicative with their parents and more often than not parents find themselves puzzled about how an attempt at having a simple conversation with their teenager ended in an argument.

There are a number of reasons why teenagers are defensive or non-responsive when speaking with their parents. Often it is because they don’t believe parents understand or that they will “freak out” because they cannot relate to their experiences. As a result, parents sometimes feel stuck around how they can get their teen to talk.

A powerful and successful tool that helps guide the communication process with teens and counters these beliefs is validation. Validation is a means of recognizing and accepting your teen’s ideas, opinions, actions or feelings and it communicates that they are important and “valid.” Validation does NOT require or necessarily say that you agree with, like, condone or approve of the other person’s behaviours, thoughts or feelings.

As an example of validation:

Teen: If she helps herself to my stuff one more time, I'm never going to talk to her again! Parent: Sounds like you're angry that she keeps taking your things. Teen: Yeah, I’m angry! I've told her not to so many times! But I don't want her to get mad at me because she is my best friend. Parent: I can understand why this would really be frustrating for you.

Notice that the parent recognized their teen’s feelings and yet did not agree, judge them or try to solve their problem. When you use validation, you create a space that lets your teen express themselves and feel heard and understood, no matter what they’re feeling or thinking. It helps to show that you are listening and trying to understand.

Tips on how to Validate:

Actively Listen: Doing the dishes while listening to your teen's story is not actively listening; you must give them all your attention. Make eye contact, stay focused and think about what they are saying, not what you will say in response.

Be mindful of your reactions: watch out for eye-rolling, frustrated sighs, tone of voice and body language. Be mindful that your reactions reflect your intention, which is trying to understand their perspective.

Show Tolerance: look for how your teen’s feelings, thoughts or actions make sense (even if you don’t agree). Remember that different opinions can be legitimate. Accepting someone’s opinion does not mean that you are agreeing.

Respond: in a way that shows you are taking your teen’s concerns seriously. Avoid words like “always”, “never”, “you make me”, and “manipulates”, because using these words can be interpreted as dismissive or confrontational.

Use “I feel” statements: when communicating your feelings. For example: “I feel frustrated when you roll your eyes at me, because I feel like you are not taking what I am saying seriously.” Not only is it difficult for them to argue with how you feel, it also helps them understand their impact on you.

Validating your teen may not feel natural at first, and may not be easy, especially when they’re misbehaving and you’re stressed out. However, with practice, you will find validation easier and using these tips will enable your teen to feel heard and open to communicating their thoughts, feelings and experiences with you.