How to help your teen feel understood

When you find someone that understands you, the world just makes sense. 

We all fear judgment. Feeling embarrassed or singled out is one of the biggest fears that we as humans experience. And, part of a typical teen's development is experiencing the "personal fable" -- the belief that you are the center of the world and that everyone's focused on you.

When you're eating with new friends, you fear that they are judging you for your food choice, or how much you're eating.

When you enter a crowd you imagine that they're thinking about the shirt you're wearing that you may have second guessed when you put it on that morning.

When you have a pimple, it becomes the only thing you believe people see when they look at you.

The world becomes a mirror for all your insecurities. 
And anything you think about yourself becomes magnified and projected onto everyone else.

It feels lonely.
It feels rejecting.
It feels humiliating.

And your teen doesn't have to go through it alone.

Learning that you're not the only one who feels a certain way and that others understand you is a VALIDATING experience. And for a highly sensitive teen, validation is step one before you can begin to see any kind of change at all.

How can you validate your teen?

LISTEN WITHOUT JUDGEMENT
Hear your teen out without telling them what to do, making disapproving faces or "shoulding" them into further shame or embarrassment. Just be there to listen without trying to change anything.

ACKNOWLEDGE THE FEELING
Decide how your teen may be feeling based on what they are sharing, their tone and their facial expression, then reflect this back to them.

This can be as simple as:

"I can tell you're really angry about this."

^^ Use a tone and body language that communicate this message too.

EMPOWER YOUR TEEN TO MAKE A CHOICE
Give your teen permission to stay sad or anxious or stuck if that's what they desire. Or, you can offer choices for how to shift out of difficult thoughts and feelings and to make changes. >> It has to be their decision.

Imagine that your support is like a buffet. They can view all the options and pick the ones that work best for them.

Here's how:

"If you want me to sit here and rub your back while you cry, I can do that for you. Or, if you'd like to go for a walk or watch Netflix together to take your mind off this, I'm game for that too."

You don't need to solve your teen's problems for them to feel supported. (In fact they're telling us here at the teen support center that that's not what they want at all.)

What they really need is to have a felt sense that they are not alone. And when you validate your teen's feelings, you accomplish this.