By: Mitch Mundy
There’s an old adage that says, “Spend enough time with someone, and you will really know them.” Often, clichés exist for a reason; there is usually a sense of truth to them. Indeed, the more time you spend with someone, the more you will know about their habits, their likes and dislikes, what makes them laugh, and what they think of themselves. What spending time with someone does not always yield is understanding. This can be easily examined in how adolescents and adults experience each other. Often parents express a desire to help their teenager while simultaneously expressing their inability to understand what is going on for their child. On the other side of things, teenagers are quick to let you know that their parents don’t understand them well enough to help. In the defense of the adolescent examine yourself for a moment. How often do you heed the advice of someone who you feel does not understand you, your situation, or the complexity of your life? That honest admission would be “rarely” and we realize… there it is, the adolescent in us all, or perhaps even the adultness in our adolescents. Luckily, there are some helpful ways to build higher levels of understanding with the teenager in your life. Check out these dos and don’ts:
Do: Acknowledge the divide that exists. In a respectful and curious way, we can address what’s already there. “Hey we seem to be on different pages about this and I’d like to understand better.”
Don’t: Assume that your prior experience as an adolescent gives you automatic understanding of what is going on for them. Let them lead you to what their understanding is.
Do: Validate. Validation can take many forms, but can be defined as expressing that what someone thinks, feels, or does makes sense. Validation is NOT approval, praise, or condoning. Remember, we are just wanting the person to FEEL understood, even if we are having a hard time getting all the way there. Here are 5 validation techniques:
- Pay attention: Give undivided attention to the level the teenager is comfortable.
- Reflect Back: Simply say back to them what you heard them say: “So I’m hearing you say that you feel left out of your friend group? Am I getting that right?”
- Understand: Look for the train of thought or pattern that developed that you can understand. Say: “it makes sense that you… because…”
- Acknowledge the Valid: Show the person that you believe they are valid. Use yourself as the barometer of validity: “I would have felt the same way if that happened to me”
- Equality: Treat the person as equal even if you may already know a solution or best course of action. “Yeah this is a difficult problem, what do you think we should do?”
Don’t: Use understanding techniques as a means to control or manipulate. If your intention is to validate to get your teenager do what you say, you will only widen the divide. Let conversations about understanding each other be just about understanding.
Do: Acknowledge the positive just as much or more than acknowledging the negative. Acknowledging effort, desire, and willingness can go a long way for teens to feel understood.
While having a toolbelt of techniques is helpful when trying to understand a teenager, the most important thing you have is a desire in your heart to truly understand. A desire to control, even when paired with great techniques, will always yield a gap in understanding. Intending to understand can take effort, but who better to receive our understanding than the adolescents we are so desperate to help in the first place.