As we continue moving forward in our series focused on returning to in-person learning, it is important to spend a few moments thinking through how to support our teens in conversation. Whether in conjunction with our previous art therapy activity or simply as part of stand alone conversations, it is important to create a safe environment for teens to express their concerns and excitements. One tip to create this safe environment is VITALLY important. Validation. Validation is how we ensure our teens know that they are supported in their experience - whatever that experience is. When we validate our teens, we help them feel understood, and this simple understanding can help the teen experience a sense of relief.
So how do we validate?
It is oh so tempting to tell our teens "You have nothing to worry about, '' or “It is just like school a few years ago” when they tell us they are anxious about learning in the classroom, finding their locker, or figuring out who to eat lunch with. However, telling your teen “It isn’t a big deal” invalidates the very valid concerns your teen is currently experiencing.
Validation can come through non-verbals including head nodding and consistent eye contact. You can also ask questions to get more information and show your interest in your teen’s feelings such as “Can you tell me more about that?” “What do you think about all of this?” or “What does this mean for you?”
Validating response statements may look like “Thank you for sharing that with me,” “Your feelings make total sense,” "I can see how this is difficult,” and “It is ok to feel that way.”
Although your teen may be seeking tangible solutions, it is also equally likely they simply want to feel supported. If it appears the conversation is moving into a problem-solving stage, you can provide further support by asking “What do you need right now?” or “How can I support you in this situation?” These questions give your teen a chance to problem solve and advocate for their own needs which are important life skills. These questions also demonstrate to your teen that you are willing to listen without jumping straight into solution mode.
Validation is a skill that must be practiced so have some fun, and try it on friends and partners. The more you practice these subtle techniques, the more naturally they will become a part of your communication with your teen.
Laura Waller, MS