6 Levels of Validation: Tools to De-Escalate and Connect with Your Teenager
It’s common for teenagers and parents to have difficulty communicating and relating to one another. As I talk to teenagers in my office, I have found that they often feel like their parents and caregivers simply don’t understand where they are coming from or what is important in their lives.
Validation is a way to acknowledge the other person’s experience and begin to relate to your teen. When I teach Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), I teach the 6 levels of Validation described below. I’ve often said that if I could give all parents one gift it would be to teach the concept of validation. Validation is a powerful communication technique.
What is Validation?
Validation means looking for what makes sense in another person’s point of view. Validation doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with the other person, but it means you value the other person enough to try to hear what they are saying. You may be looking for just a kernel of truth in the other person’s point of view at times. Validation communications that the other person is important.
6 Levels of Validation for Teenagers
Below are six different ways (based on Marsha Linehan’s explanation in DBT) that you can validate your teen. Generally, the higher the level of validation, the more validating it is to the other person. Sometimes we can’t use a Level 5 validation, because what the other person’s saying just doesn’t make sense to us. Even in those moments, you can usually listen (Level 1), summarize what you’ve heard the other person saying (Level 2) and try to read behind the lines or try to see what isn’t being
said yet (Level 3).
- Pay Attention. Of course parents think they are paying attention, but in this fast paced world you may be surprised how often you find yourself multitasking You may be “listening” to your teen while you’re doing dishes and asking how their day was, but if you make time to focus solely on your teen they may feel valued and realize that you are actually interested in their life.
- Reflect Back. This involves summarizing what they’ve said to make sure you fully understand. If your teen has very different interests than you or has just told you about several different things, quickly summarizing by saying, “It sounds like something went wrong in every single class today,” or, “I had no idea so much planning and practice went into a single basketball play!” The goal here is to accurately reflect back or summarize what you’ve heard. This shows your teen that you really are listening to them and gives them the chance to clarify what they mean if you’ve misunderstood.
- “Read Minds” This step involves trying to understand what your youth has not said. Level 3 means reading between the lines and trying to acknowledge what isn’t being said. It’s essentially taking an educated guess. Don’t be afraid to “guess” wrong, because even if they insist you are wrong, they will know you are trying to understand where they’re coming from and they may correct you explaining how they actually feel.
- This is when you say their feelings make sense given something about your teen or their past experiences. Saying “You are nervous about the Algebra test, because you didn’t do as well as you wanted on the last exam,” shows that you understand where they are coming from. Or saying, “Because you have been depressed for so long, it’s hard for you to even picture yourself happy again.” Pro tip: try to avoid using this in a way that invalidates a youth by dismissing their feelings by sayingsomething like, “You feel that way because you are so young. When you’re an adult you won’t feel that way.”
- Acknowledge the Valid. Here you are simply acknowledging that their feelings are valid/ok/normal. Telling you teen that anyone would feel like they feel, that you hear the depth of their emotions and that you accept their emotions will help them feel accepted and safe opening up to you. An example would be, “Break ups are hard,” or “Anyone would feel angry if their friend said something like that.” This can be incredibly powerful for teenagers who often feel like they are alone or weird. We may not be able to acknowledge their response to a specific situation (i.e. threatening a friend) as valid or understandable, but their emotions are often much easier to validate (it’s understandable that you are disappointed and angry that your friend has cancelled plans).
- Show Equality through Radical Genuineness. Being radically genuine with your teen, sharing yourself with them and treating them as a valid, capable person helps your youth adjust to having respectful, adult interactions that they will have as they transition into adulthood. Every parent has a different personality as does each teenager. This means being “real” with your teenager, treating them as if they matter and not acting as if they are fragile. This is your where you bring “you” into the relationship.
Good luck relating to and validating your teenager! Using these techniques it’s possible to develop a better understanding of your teen and show them that you care and are interested in their life.
Further Help With Your Teenager
If you’d like to learn about how counseling may help your teenager, please call us today at 573-328-2288. Aspire Counseling has therapists who regularly work with teenagers and parents of teens. We have the experience, training and expertise to help both you and your youth!
About the Author
Jessica Tappana, LCSW is the founder of Aspire Counseling, a Columbia, MO counseling center. Aspire Counseling specializes in helping youth and adults through treating trauma, grief, anxiety/fear and those who are going through a stressful period in their life. Our mental health therapists often work with teenagers and their parents. We believe in creating a welcoming therapy environment so people of all walks of life can find emotional healing, peace and joy. Jessica enjoys writing blog posts that give people hope and practical advice about how to improve their mental health. In her spare time, Jessica enjoys spending time with her family, cheering at MU sporting events (go Tigers!) and traveling.