It’s February and people think about a day off for Presidents Day and Valentine’s Day. Many think of Valentine’s Day as the day to tell people they love them and to buy people in their lives candy or flowers. This is nice but it is not necessarily what your child or teen needs. They actually need something a little different.
Oprah during her last show said it best in my opinion. She said, “I’ve talked to nearly 30,000 people on this show, and all 30,000 had one thing in common: They all wanted validation. If I could reach through this television and sit on your sofa or sit on a stool in your kitchen right now, I would tell you that every single person you will ever meet shares that common desire. They want to know: ‘Do you see me? Do you hear me? Does what I say mean anything to you?’
I have worked with many, many teens and they were all looking for the same thing. They wanted their feelings validated by the adults in their lives and to know that the adult in their lives cared about them and loved them. However, in today’s world when both parents may work 50 to 60 hours a week, this simply request often is over looked. Parents think that since they are working as hard as they are and providing for their family that their children should know they love and care about them. But parents need to remember that they are dealing with children and teens. The prefontal cortex is not fully developed in children and teens so they are not capable of reasoning as adults. The result is that teens feel unwanted and unloved and they act out trying to see if their parents care. So teens start drinking, using drugs, cutting school and other behaviors. When parents see this they get upset and mad because they feel disrespected and unloved by their teens. So instead of getting the nurturing teens are seeking, they get anger and punishment instead. This makes them feel more unwanted and they act out more and pretty soon we have a cycle of teens feeling disrespected and parents feeling disrespected. This cycle quickly escalates to the point where it is out of control.
If we remember what Oprah said, everyone wants to feel validated and that they matter. So don’t just tell your teens that you love them on Valentine’s Day, Christmas and birthdays. Tell them everyday that they are important to you and that you love them, but tell them in a way that they will understand. At their age they still think concretely. So put a note saying I love you in their lunch or on their pillow. Given them a hug in the morning. Plan to do something with them that they want to do, such as go see a movie they want and let them pick the restaurant where the family is going to have dinner. These are not big things, but over time these little things add up to a big thing for your teen. And if you have a teen that is acting out, don’t automatically assume that they don’t care about anything. Consider the act that you might have a teen in a great deal of emotional pain and they are crying out for help the only way the know how to. Now validating your children is obviously not going to solve every problem, but it can help with many so give it a try. What do you have to lose?
Dr. Rubino has a private practice in Pleasant Hill and specializes in defiant children and teenagers. He has been a guest on many local television shows and national radio programs. To learn more about his practice check his web site http://www.rcs-ca.com. Dr. Rubino also has therapist who speak Spanish too.,