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How To Listen So Teens Will Talk: 6 Levels of Validation

Parenting a teenager can be challenging, especially when it comes to knowing what to say to keep them talking. One powerful tool parents can use to connect with their teenagers is validation. Validation involves acknowledging and accepting the teenager’s feelings and experiences as valid and understandable. In this guide, we’ll explore the six levels of validation and provide examples of how parents can incorporate them into conversations with their teenagers.

1. Being Present (Level 1)

Being present means giving your full attention to your teenager without distractions. This shows them that you are listening and that their thoughts and feelings are important to you.


Teenager: “I’m really stressed about my exams coming up.”

Parent: The parent puts down their phone, makes eye contact with the teenager, and nods, indicating they are fully engaged in the conversation.

2. Accurate Reflection (Level 2)

Accurate reflection involves summarizing or paraphrasing what your teenager is saying to show that you understand their message.


Teenager: “I feel like no one understands me.”

Parent: “It sounds like you’re feeling isolated and like others aren’t getting what you’re going through.”

3. Articulating Unverbalized Emotions (Level 3)

This level involves identifying and reflecting emotions that your teenager may not have explicitly stated.


Teenager: “I don’t want to go to school today.”

Parent: “It seems like you might be feeling anxious or overwhelmed about something at school. Is that right?”

4. Validating in Terms of Past History or Biology (Level 4)

Acknowledging your teenager’s feelings or behaviors in the context of their past experiences or biological responses.


Teenager: “I always get so mad when you ask me about homework!”

Parent: “I understand that you’ve been under a lot of pressure with school, and it can be frustrating to talk about it when you’re already stressed.”

5. Normalizing or Validating in Terms of Present Context (Level 5)

Recognizing that your teenager’s response is normal or understandable given the current situation.


Teenager: “I’m upset because my friends went out without inviting me.”

Parent: “It’s completely normal to feel hurt when you feel left out by friends. Anyone would be upset in that situation.”

6. Radical Genuineness (Level 6)

Relating to your teenager as a person, responding authentically, and showing deep respect.


Teenager: “I’m not sure I want to go to college right after high school.”

Parent: “I really admire your ability to consider your own path. Let’s talk about what you’re interested in and figure out what feels right for you.”

How to Listen So Teens Will Talk in Action

Each level of validation is a tool that parents can use to communicate understanding and acceptance to their teens. By validating their feelings and experiences, parents can help their teens feel supported and valued. Parents don’t have to progress through each level in order; rather, they can use whichever level seems most appropriate for the situation at hand. Practicing validation can strengthen the parent-teen relationship and promote healthy communication.

If you’re struggling to connect with your teen or want additional support in navigating challenging conversations, consider reaching out to the teen therapists Suffolk DBT. Our IOP and outpatient therapy options for teens at Suffolk DBT provide comprehensive support and strategies for improving communication and emotional well-being. Contact Suffolk DBT today to learn more about how DBT can help you and your family.

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