Helping Teens Through Their First Breakup
“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. Don’t underestimate the impact that their first heartbreak will have on them. Your teen is dealing with hormones, new experiences, establishing their identity, and peer pressure – all of which contribute to an emotional roller coaster. Throw in the ending of their first relationship, and they are likely to be pretty miserable. Here are tips for how you can help your teen learn to cope with their first breakup and develop some emotional resiliency:
Let Your Teen Vent
Allow your teen to talk about the breakup, their feelings, and what they are going through. Do not offer advice or stories about your old breakups. Simply listen and offer understanding. You might feel that your teen is being overly dramatic, but no matter how silly your teen’s emotions seem to you, they feel real to him or her. Do your best to give them respect, and never indicate that you think their emotions are wrong. Do NOT judge your teen OR their ex. Simply listen a lot, offering them a safe space to pour out their feelings, and reassure your teen that they are loved and lovable. Research has also shown that writing in a journal about a breakup can help people move past the pain, so you might suggest this option.
Validate Their Feelings
Everyone wants to feel understood. One of the best things you can do to help your teen deal with their first breakup is to validate their feelings. This means empathizing that this is a difficult situation for them. Avoid statements like ‘you’ll be okay,’ or ‘you’ll meet someone better,’ which generally upset teens and make them feel that you don’t understand their situation. Instead you can acknowledge their feelings, such as “I can see that you’re very upset” or “that would have hurt my feelings, too” or “I’m so sorry that this happened to you.”
Be Open for Conversations
As time passes, make yourself available to your teen to discuss the breakup, but don’t bring it up yourself. It is best if you don’t try to force your teen to tell you everything that is happening. But, don’t avoid the subject. Let your teen know that they can come to you and start a conversation anytime.
After a breakup, it can be difficult for teens to get excited about the things they loved to do before the relationship ended, but often this can help them move past their pain. Encourage your teen to spend time with friends. Help them remember what they used to love to do and suggest they get out and do them even if they don’t feel like it. Propose they try a new activity. Distraction is a great way to help your teen avoid spending the majority of their time thinking about their ex and instead focus on more positive things.
Give your teen time and space to grieve the end of the relationship while keeping a watchful eye on them. It is absolutely normal for your teen to be sad for awhile. However, you should pay attention if your teens appears to be: feeling extremely sad, lethargic, hopeless or worthless for a prolonged time; isolating themselves; stalking their ex or slandering them online; or unable to move past the hurt. If you are concerned, seek out professional help.
As a parent, we can view teenage relationships as silly or very temporary, but please try to remember that this is a very important matter to your child and treat your teen’s feelings gently. On the other hand, we can also feel our own heart break when our teens are sad, but this is not a situation that you can “fix” for your child. Keep in mind that this is a necessary learning experience for your teen. It’s important that he or she learns how to handle rejection and disappointment before they head into the adult world.