The study, “Sense of invalidation uniquely risky for troubled teens,” was just published in the Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology (you can read it here… ). The study looked at 99 teens hospitalized for suicide risk and followed for 6 months. They found that, for boys especially, lack of validation and not feeling accepted by their family, predicted future suicide, and for all teens, peer invalidation predicted future self harm like cutting.
A child’s perception may be totally different from what we as parents consider social support. To get a handle on how these teens were feeling they asked these questions:
- Were there times when you did not feel accepted by your family?
- Were there times you felt you could not express your true thoughts and feelings?
- Have you expressed your thoughts and feelings but felt dismissed, punished, or made fun of?
These questions were asked specifically as related to family and parents and then separately as related to peers. That sense of invalidation could come from being bullied, or in some cases was just a teen who is gay perceiving that parents would disapprove if found out.
Parents, I know many, many times my children have put me up on a pedestal as “perfect” or as “great” and just by so doing they belittle themselves and feel that I am not approachable. In our desire to teach and train and raise “good” children, we need to always be sensitive to their thoughts and feelings. To really do this well, we must humble ourselves and let them know that we are here to learn from them, as much as we are here to guide and teach and provide a good example.
If your teen is struggling emotionally, struggling with peers, struggling with addictions, depression, anxiety, school work, or suddenly is withdrawing from activities that were previously important, it is time to be there in every sense possible. I recommend you put aside any past misunderstandings or arguments or disagreements and go to every length possible to let your child know you want to help, you are ready to listen and you will support them whatever it takes.
If you just can’t get them to open up to you, then bring in the known adults or positive peers who you know they will confide in. Consider professional counseling but perhaps start by saying you, the parent, feels a need to talk to someone since you just don’t know how to be a good parent to this child. Ask your teen if they would join you so you can learn what you need to learn in how to communicate with them. Remember, it’s not about you (the parent) at this time of teen crisis. It’s all about validating them and having them feel they can be heard.
This month I am recommending the book “The Conscious Parent” by Dr Shefali Tsabary. I feel this is a must read, for those raising toddlers or teens. Our complex world has created a parenting challenge that may require a different approach from the strict traditional “mommy knows best – do as I say” type of parenting.
PARENTS: Don’t be afraid to learn a new way. This literally could be the difference between life and death!