Teen Dating: How to Break Up

“Breaking up is hard to do” say the lyrics in the 1950s song, and truly it is, especially for teenagers, who may be in their first true relationship. Your teen may see it as a casual relationship or as what they thought was the love of their life. Either way, don’t underestimate the impact this break-up will have on them.

As with almost all relationship issues, teens look to others to role model how to handle tough situations.  Unfortunately, there are not many good role models in the area of break-ups – hopefully, the adults in their lives are in solid marriages, and if they’re not, divorces are some of the worst break-ups of all. So, if adults can’t role model a healthy break-up, teens look to their friends and media. Their friends aren’t any better at handling these situations than they are, and the media is showing reality shows where the worst behavior is glamorized. MTV hits like “Jersey Shore” and “Teen Mom” provide millions of teens with their only break-up role models.

Teen dating violence is an increasing trend in America, and many of these incidents occur over bad breakups.  You can learn more about the causes, signs and prevention of teen dating violence in our previous blog “Healthy Relationships: Avoiding Teen Dating Violence”, but in this particular article we are focusing on how to handle the final stage of the teenage dating relationship… the hard-to-do break-up. Even if adults can’t role model a healthy break-up, they should take the time to talk to their teens and teach them how to break-up without breaking down.

Advice to Give your Teen for a Healthy Break-Up

  • Break up in person. Technology has transformed the break-up. Texting and social media are so ingrained as a teenager’s primary mode of communication that they rarely talk face-to-face. One recent study by the company that distributes the free texting application textPlus found 30 percent of teens have been dumped via text. Social media, such as Facebook, can make breaking up into a spectator sport with arguments between the couple open to comment by friends in their network. Face-to-face conversations are more respectful, private and always better because you can see nonverbal cues and understand how the other person is feeling.  However, if your partner has a history of abusing you, then breaking up over the phone or in a public place is advisable.
  • Use kind words, but be firm. It is difficult for anyone, let alone teenagers, to learn that hard balance of being firm enough to establish healthy boundaries but kind enough to preserve respect, but it’s a valuable lesson that will serve a child well through their entire life. Be sure to teach them that it’s okay to do what’s best for them even if someone doesn’t like it, but encourage them to pursue their own happiness with respectful and polite courtesies. When leaving a relationship, it is important that you tell your partner why you are leaving in a matter-of-factly manner. Do not get emotional and do not blame yourself or your partner for faults within the relationship (avoid personal attacks). Be firm and don’t give your partner room to apologize and try to win you back. Show your partner that this decision is yours and that it has already been made.
  • Recognize your feelings. Remind your teen that, regardless of whether they are doing the break-up or being dumped, it is normal to feel a wide range of unpleasant feelings from sadness to anger. They should mourn their loss and acknowledge their pain at first. They should not obsess about what went wrong. Remind your teen that break-ups are simply part of dating and everyone has them. Once they have identified their feelings, they should choose to let them go. Offer them suggestions for how to make that transition. For example, you can move on by writing down your feelings on a piece of paper and then ripping them up, or you can exercise to work off angry feelings.
  • Accept your single status. When heartbreak occurs, it’s easy for the heartbroken to remember only how wonderful everything was before the break-up. Although it’s always nice to remember good times, in this instance, it’s important that your teen doesn’t glorify a bad relationship – something went wrong for the break-up to occur. Ask them to recall their ex’s not-so-great qualities. Help them to see the benefits and freedoms of being single and encourage them to discover who they are as a person without a partner. Suggest they get a hobby. Without a partner, your teen has a lot of freedom to engage in activities that didn’t interest their ex. The extra benefit of taking a class or joining a club is that they will meet new people which will attract new friends and admirers.

As a parent, we can see teenage relationships as silly or very temporary, but please try to remember that this is a very important matter to your child. Validate their feelings. Encourage them to live in the moment, instead of focusing on the past, and begin to dream about the future. Remind them that the majority of people do not marry the person they dated in high school and that the next person they meet might be a much better match for them.


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