Teenage Heartbreak: How a Parent Can Help

“I just want to be friends.” Devastating words to hear in any romantic relationship, but especially tough for a teen who’s hearing it for the first time.

 

When her son and his girlfriend went to different colleges, he expected that they would keep dating, reports a mom in Deerfield we’ll call Brianna, but unfortunately the girl felt the distance was too much and they broke up. “When she stared going out with another guy, he was devastated,” she says.

If your teen is dating, he or she will eventually experience heartache. Here are some tips on how to help when your child is devastated by the end of a romance.

1. Ask thoughtful questions, says Suzanne Gazzolo, a clinical psychologist with a practice in Wilmette. One of her favorites is to ask, “If you’re 25 or 30 and looking back, how would you hope for yourself that you dealt with this breakup?” It encourages them to look ahead, but validates how they’re feeling in the moment.

2. Don’t bad mouth the ex, recommends Brianna. You don’t want to make your child defensive or feel bad about the time that he or she invested in the relationship. (And you never know, they could get back together in a week; then your child will hold any negative comments you made against you!)

3. Encourage strengthening other relationships. According to research conducted by Dr. Stuart Hauser and reported in his book, “Out of the Woods: Tales of Resilient Teens” teens who were most able to bounce back from difficult circumstances were able to recruit and keep important relationships. If your son isn’t ready to deal with his peers, suggest coffee with an older cousin or a sibling who can be supportive.

4. Validate your child’s feelings. Gazzolo recommends that you recognize the feeling even if it doesn’t make sense. “If you object, it has the opposite effect,” she says. So if your child admits, “I’m scared no one will ever love me.” Don’t rush to say that of course she will have plenty of boyfriends. When you validate, you acknowledge how she’s feeling and that it’s okay: “I know that you’re scared. Is there anything I can do to help?”

5. Remain present with your teen. While your child may want to spend hours sulking alone, encourage spending some time together. Treat your daughter to a mom/daughter mani/pedi or take your son to the driving range. No need to bring up the breakup; just hanging together will help lift your kid’s spirits.

6. Help your teen be his or her best self. The experts agree that this is a moment when you can encourage your teen to take the high road. If he’d like to post a nasty comment on her Facebook page, acknowledge that it’s tempting to retaliate for his hurt feelings, but encourage him to wait instead of act.  If he does say something hurtful, encourage a sincere apology. You’re helping your child learn how to handle a tough moment with grace, and it’s a skill that will serve him well throughout his life.

As much as we’d like to protect our kids from any and all difficulties, we can’t and shouldn’t. Most teens will experience more than one breakup on their way to true love, but knowing that you love and support them will help ease the pain—at least a little. If you are single and looking for love  click here to find single men and women.