Parenting Your Teen Through Heartbreak
By Deena Bodine, MSW, LCSW, Youth First, Inc.
Parenting presents many rewards and challenges. Watching our children grow into teenagers who are working to manage demands, grow more independent, and build interpersonal relationships is one of those rewarding experiences.
During the adolescent years, our teens are likely to experience milestones, including an interest in more romantic relationships as well as developing a deeper capacity for sharing in relationships that are more intimate. We, as parents, can be caught off guard when our child experiences heartbreak.
As adults, we may look back fondly on memories of our first love, or we may cringe while remembering what we thought was love. Our children’s experiences can often evoke responses from us rooted in our own personal experiences. At times, it can be challenging to know how to best support and encourage our children. Heartbreak is no exception.
First, our initial response in this situation should be to listen to our child. Listening allows our child to explore and process their thoughts and feelings without interference. This can be a challenge for us because we have spent so much of their lives offering suggestions and advice.
Second, we should validate their feelings. Heartbreak is an example of grief and loss, and with that may come feelings of sadness, anger, and guilt—not unlike those emotions experienced with the death of a loved one. Validation involves tuning into your child, acknowledging their feelings without ignoring, dismissing, or judging.
Following a breakup, it can be common to distance yourself from others. While it can be beneficial for your teen to take time for themselves, it is also important for teens to stay connected. Discuss finding a balance between taking time for themselves and connecting with others.
Keeping busy with activities your teen enjoys can do wonders for the healing process. While it may be a challenge for your teen to avoid their ex, especially if they attend the same school or have the same circle of friends, encourage your teen to set healthy boundaries. This includes online too. Encourage your teen to practice healthy social media habits and limit posting or commenting online regarding their relationship. They may choose to limit messaging or online interactions with their ex as well.
Lastly, assist your teen in maintaining their routine as much as possible. Check on their health habits, including sleep and staying active. Encourage your teen to talk with family and friends who can support them. Help your teen recognize the positives of a breakup, which include learning more about themselves as well as what they want (or don’t want) in future relationships.
If your teen is struggling to move on following a breakup, or if feeling unsafe in any way, it is important to advocate for help on their behalf. Encourage your teen to talk to someone they trust. If these feelings are affecting daily life, stopping them from doing things they enjoy, or have lasted longer than a couple of weeks, it may be beneficial for your teen to talk with their physician or a counselor.