Can Validation Help You Connect and Bond with Your Teen?

Parent holds out clothes and attempts to converse with teenager looks away and off to the side Raising a teenager can be one of the most challenging tasks of parenthood. One day you are raising a sweet, respectful child who loves to be with you, and the next, you are tiptoeing around your house hoping not to wake the bear. At some point during adolescence, many parents will classify interactions with their teen as unpredictable, confrontational, and/or dismissive. It is during these years teens and their parents often feel as though they are speaking different languages. And often, both parents and teens suddenly think talking louder, in a more animated way, will somehow get their points across.

After working with adolescents and their parents for almost a decade, I have found that my initial role as therapist is interpreter. From there, I work to help them learn each other’s languages so they can go back to healthy communication and connection. I have many tools in my toolbox to help parents and teens reconnect, but one of the most profound is validation.

Validation is the act of acknowledging another person’s thoughts and feelings and communicating to them that those thoughts and feelings make sense and are understandable given the situation. It is important to note validating is not the same as agreeing. Validation is important because it shows you are listening, you understand, and you are approaching the person in a nonjudgmental way.

Now, let us think about validation in terms of interactions with teenagers. When it comes to interacting with their parents, they often feel judged, unheard, and criticized. These perceptions frequently lead to conflict with their parents and/or withdrawal from interactions with them. When parents take time to validate (i.e., listen without judgment), teens often feel more open to having a conversation and more responsive to information being shared by parents.

Validation is disarming and encourages dialogue. In my experience, parents just want to talk with their children. Using validation can open those lines of communication again. Teens like to talk with people whom they feel understand them. The minute they sniff judgment or criticism, they may shut down or lash out. So, leading with validation can encourage connection.

When parents take time to validate (i.e., listen without judgment), teens often feel more open to having a conversation and more responsive to information being shared by parents.

Sounds easy, right? Well, validating a teen can be difficult for parents for many reasons. First, teens can seem somewhat irrational at times, and it can be challenging to find something to validate. Second, after weeks, months, or years of built-up frustrations and disagreements, it can be difficult to want to validate. Third, I have found parents often feel stuck on the idea that by validating they are somehow saying their teen’s behavior is okay and/or they agree with what their teen is saying. However, it is important to remember validation is a form of understanding, not agreeing. By validating, you are not saying your teen is right—you are simply using a tool to help start a dialogue and prevent a potential conflict.

According to Miller, Glinski, Woodberry, Mitchell, and Indik (2002), there are six levels of validation. Jeffrey B. Jackson, PhD, LMFT, adapted these levels and five of the six are shared below.

  • Listen: Be attentive and listen in a nonjudgmental way.
  • Reflect: Reflect back the thoughts and feelings shared by your teen. This helps them to feel heard. It also prevents miscommunication because they can correct any information they feel you did not hear correctly. It also allows them to hear their own thoughts and feelings out loud and may prompt them to start thinking a bit differently. Example: “I hear you say you are feeling overwhelmed right now because you have a lot of responsibilities.”
  • Empathize: Share your best guess about your teen’s unspoken thoughts or feelings. Share how you might feel if you were in their shoes. Example: “If my parents told me they were worried about who I was hanging out with, I might feel angry and judged. Is that how you are feeling?”
  • Acknowledge reasons for behavior: Try to reflect an understanding of the reasons for their behaviors. Example: “I can see why you would feel devastated after your friend cut you off. You really valued that friendship and didn’t feel you did anything wrong.”
  • Acknowledge courage: Reinforce good judgment and acknowledge personal strength. Example: “It must take a lot of courage for you to try and make the best of this situation and try not to let it get you too upset.”

Think about the last time someone validated you in one of these ways. Didn’t it make you feel good? Didn’t you feel understood? Didn’t it make it feel safe to share more? We all crave validation, teens included. In fact, validation might just be the key to better communication and a happier household.


Adapted by Jeffrey B. Jackson, PhD, LMFT from Miller, A.L., Glinski, J., Woodberry, K.A., Mitchell, A.G., & Indik, J. (2002). Family therapy and dialectical behavior therapy with adolescents: Part I: Proposing a clinical synthesis. American Journal of Psychotherapy, 56(4), 568-584.

© Copyright 2017 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Katelyn Alcamo, LCMFT, Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Maddie

    February 6th, 2017 at 7:16 AM

    There isn’t a person alive who doesn’t want to be heard and to be understood. I think that we don’t give the teens enough credit, that we automatically assume they are being argumentative because that’s what they do.
    The reality is that they are just now learning the appropriate ways to communicate and they need to be able to take some of their cues from you as the adult. If you show them that not everything has to be an argument and that it is a good thing to listen to others and really take the time to understand what it is that they are trying to say, then you will find that they are more likely to do the same thing for you.

  • Kate

    February 8th, 2017 at 10:34 AM

    Hi Maddie, I think you highlighted something so important, and that is that as adults, we are the best models for how we want our kids to act. Showing them how to listen and validate can help them in other relationships as well.

  • albe S

    February 6th, 2017 at 11:07 AM

    There will be some teens who can respect this and get on board and then there are others who are going to be snarky and want their own way no matter what you do. You really have to just know the person and also understand that the older they get the better this will get too.

  • Kate

    February 8th, 2017 at 10:29 AM

    You are absolutely right albe, validation may not be the key to success for every teen or in every situation. It can be helpful for parents to remember that validation is just one of many tools in their toolbox and may or may not work in any given situation. However, in my experience, it is usually a great tool to start with and doesn’t make things worse, but certainly has the opportunity to make things better.

  • Serena

    February 7th, 2017 at 4:50 PM

    There are days when I feel mad at my mom and dad for literally no reason at all and I don’t want to even be in the same room with them much less have a conversation with them.
    Is this normal or am I losing it? I feel guilty when I act like that because I know that they try so hard but seriously they get under my skin a lot and I can’t handle it.

  • Kate

    February 8th, 2017 at 10:45 AM

    Hi Serena! I think what you are going through is a very normal experience for most teens. What is so impressive is how insightful you are in recognizing what is going on for you and how it might be making your parents feel. The adolescent years are designed to help you learn how to become more independent and self reliant because soon you will be off on your own. However, you also still need your parent’s love and support. This push and pull can be confusing for kids and parents alike, but is a normal and healthy process. It sounds like you really care about your parents and their feelings and I am sure they know that. However, if you are feeling guilty for how you might be treating them, you might try and communicate to them what you are struggling with. If talking is difficult, it may be helpful to write them a letter. I know that writing to my parents always helped me to organize my thoughts. I hope this helps! And, remember that adolescence does pass and so will some of these complicated feelings. But, open communication with parents can really help make this time better for everyone!

  • Serena

    February 8th, 2017 at 11:46 AM

    Thanks Kate! Maybe if I could just type them an email that would be a better way for us to hash it all out right now lol

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