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How to avoid the most common parenting pitfall with teens

Communicating with a teenager and validating their emotionsMoody. Difficult. Hormonal. There are many adjectives to describe teenagers.

Misunderstood is the one I use the most. Having worked with teenagers for many years and having heard some of their deepest and darkest secrets, I am sticking with ‘misunderstood’.

Many parents seek my advice and support to help reconnect with their teenagers or to prevent a disconnection in the first place. Without realising it, many parents unintentionally do something that sparks this disconnection.

The antidote? A simple and powerful remedy …

I hope that with this information at hand, you can become the confidant instead!

They Confide In Me. Why?

Teenagers often confide in me, over you. Have you ever wondered why? Maybe you think it is my job and I have the luxury of a confidential space?

This is only a small part of the reason.

I think the confidential space helps but I am about to reveal to you why that only gets me so far.

Validation

The number one, consistent complaint that teenagers have about their parents is they do not feel validated. Validation refers to that feeling of being heard, that you matter, and that your feelings, emotions and opinions are valid. To better understand validation, it is useful to understand the process of emotional invalidation.

Validation is the antidote to intense emotions. While you may never take away the emotions of your child, nor should you, when a teenager is feeling an emotion and a parent validates that emotion, the power in this is incredible. It sounds so ridiculously simple, but this is exceptionally powerful.

By the simple act of emotional validation you communicate to your teenager:

  • I hear you
  • I see you
  • I understand you
  • It is OK to be you.

Emotions are a form of communication and until you can listen to their emotions and ‘speak’ back (aka validation), your teenager will try louder and more intense ways to get their message heard.

Let’s take ‘Sam’ for example: when Sam is expressing anger and stress she yells and screams at home. Prior to learning about validation, Sam’s mother would react back to Sam and tell her she was being rude and that she was always grumpy.

Then Sam’s mother learned validation. All she did was say to Sam ‘I can see this is really hard for you’ and ‘you seem really angry today, I’m sure there’s a really good reason for it’.

That simple act of validation allowed Sam to say, ‘yeah I am angry!’ Sam’s mother continued to listen to Sam’s anger and the reasons behind the anger.

Before too long, Sam and her mothers’ relationship improved significantly. Why? Sam reported that she was allowed to express her anger, she felt heard and understood, and she was able to trust her mother to hear the reasons for her anger.

This in turn allowed Sam’s mother the opportunity to support Sam to manage the core reasons for her anger, which turned out to be bullying at school.

Sam and her mother researched bully-blocking techniques and practiced those techniques together. I had the privilege of watching this unfold – Sam became like jelly in her mother’s arms, over time.

The anger in her resided and she melted into her mothers’ safe arms. A much better outcome than anger, door-slamming and arguing.

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This is an excerpt from What your Teen is Telling Me and Why They’re Not Telling You: Practical Communication Tools Every Parent Must Know by Davina Donovan. 

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