Affirmation is a basic human need and it is crucial to our well-being and self-esteem. But what happens when the need for validation in children becomes destructive?
In an age where likes, comments and shares have become commonplace, affirmation can be talked about in a different way than before. Instead of being encouraging and supportive, it can sometimes turn into a pressing pursuit of admiration. For teenagers, this can have a strong impact on self-esteem and self-concept.
Children seeking validation
Everyone needs affirmation and to feel seen, valued and loved. But when it becomes an unrealistic and constant pursuit of external validation, it can lead to negative consequences. For example, it can create a feeling of inadequacy, low self-esteem and a constant fear of being rejected or disliked. It can also contribute to an insecurity about one's own identity and a feeling of having to adapt in order to be accepted.
"Children seeking validation tells us something"
As a parent, it is important to be aware of how we communicate with our children and how we give affirmation. It is less about giving praise and encouragement for achievements, and more about affirming the children's value as individuals. Creating a safe and permissive environment where children can be themselves without fear of rejection or criticism is essential to their well-being.
A healthy approach to affirmation is about focusing on authentic and meaningful communication based on genuine feelings and connectedness. Teaching children to be aware of their own feelings and to express them in a constructive way is an important part of promoting their mental health and independence.
"Destructive" validation can be linked to our need to fit into society and belong to a social group. As humans, we are social creatures and we often strive to be accepted and appreciated by those around us. When we perceive that our validation comes with conditions or is based on external factors such as appearance or performance, it can lead to behaviors such as comparing ourselves to others, feeling jealous, and trying to conform in order to be approved.
Children and social media - need for validation
Another interesting aspect is to reflect on how validation may have been seen differently in the past. Before social media existed, affirmation was more localized to the immediate environment such as family, friends and teachers. There were not the same opportunities to be constantly affirmed by a large audience. It may be worth reflecting on how this affects today's kids and their self-image. Research has shown that there is a strong link between the use of social media and the perceived lack of affirmation. When we constantly compare ourselves to others and measure our own worth based on the number of likes or followers, we risk falling into a negative spiral of validation seeking. It is important to be aware of the impact social media can have and to teach children to deal with it in a healthy way. (Not an easy task).
Likes and followers turn into numbers that can quickly give a sense of temporary happiness or dissatisfaction. This can create an addictive cycle where young people seek more and more validation to fill the void. An important part of dealing with destructive affirmation is fostering a strong sense of self in youth. By helping them identify and value their own inner qualities and strengths, independent of external judgments, we can help build their resilience.
By teaching children to be aware of their own feelings, to express them and to be empathetic towards others, we can create a foundation for healthy relationships and communication. It's about showing children that they are loved and valued for who they are, not for achievements or external attributes.
"We adults need to think about how we give validation"
It is important to be aware of our own behavior and the type of affirmation we give as adults. If we talk about praise, it can be important to focus on effort, process and personal qualities rather than just results and performance. Affirmation is a fundamental part of our well-being, but it is also important to be aware of when it becomes destructive. By creating an awareness of how affirmation affects us and our children, we can work towards avoiding destructive behaviors.
The toddler needs validation. Validation that he is loved just as he is. This of course continues throughout life - without any validation at all, life is not good. Today, we have tools to give a lot of validation very quickly, or the opposite - get no validation at all in a "sea" where it feels like everyone else is getting it. This is of course not particularly healthy, but at the same time it is something we may have to accept to some extent. In my mind, our task as adults becomes even greater than before – our enemy is stronger. The forces that say "you're not good enough" scream louder. The vital affirmation that children are loved just as they are and that they have a value that stands above all achievements and superficialities in the world is perhaps becoming even more important today? Maybe we need to be even more aware of how we act?
Of course, much comes quite naturally – love is not difficult to give. But devoting a thought or two to the countless times children today are told on a daily basis that they are not good enough probably won't hurt.
Talk to the children about this. Affirm them and lift them up and don't ignore that they are exposed to something you and I probably weren't exposed to as children. We adults have to be the shelter in that storm, I think. If it's hard to get these conversations going, to find the entrance or to make it come naturally, I can warmly recommend our emotional cards.