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How to Help a Teenager with a Break-Up

Teens' break-ups are more intense in today's digital age. Parents should offer empathetic support, encourage socializing, and avoid oversharing personal experiences.
sad teen girl thinking

Most of us remember when we had our first break-up as an adolescent and that it was probably an extremely difficult time in our lives. As an adult we can more easily look at such a time with less intensity than we did then. Yet in our high and low emotions as a teen it was both a memorable and dramatic experience.

In today’s digital world, there is even a greater intensity to these break-ups. Teen couples are in touch with each other by texts and Facetime constantly. This regularity becomes a major part of their lives and relationships. Thus, the loss of connection is even more exaggerated. 

Typically, within minutes of an announced break-up their friends are texting, sharing opinions, commenting and sometimes antagonizing. Also, photos are shared where one teen or the other are seen with other relationships which intensifies the rejection, hurt and anger. With all of that exposure it is difficult to manage the emotions that are already heightened.

So, what are parents and caregivers to do to help the teen in their care? First of all, we cannot prevent emotional distress in our kids nor can we make their pain go away as soon as we would like. We need to recognize that they are in shock, sadness and anger. We also need to resist the temptation to share our own break-up stories soon after their loss.

If they want to share what happened, parents should be empathetic listeners. Yet teens should also have room to process their loss in their own way. Parents can help most by just being present, available and checking in carefully. It is good for them to know that they are supported and have someone they trust in their corner.

Often teens can generalize a break-up to think that they may struggle with friendships.  Encouraging them to be with their friends can be a healthy diversion that will help to allay any fears about their capacity to have meaningful friendships. 

It is also important to exercise caution in discussing too much information or opinions about their ex. Parents and caregivers can vent their feelings to a friend or spouse so that your teen doesn’t feel pressure to manage the emotions of their caregivers.

Sometimes teens attempt to recreate a relationship with their ex to change a romance into a friendship. That is something that should be gently discouraged at least for some healing time after the emotional impact of the break-up.

It is helpful to understand that any relational break-up takes time to process and resolve. Teens need that time to recover from some of the intense emotions. In the future there will be time where more detailed discussions can happen where they will be ready for such a conversation.  Until then, we should stay in a good posture to support them, listen to them and protect them from further hurt and duress.

Finally, sometimes it helps for them to talk to a trusted adult or counselor if they appear to struggle to process the break-up in a healthy way. A parent and caregiver can guide some of that process and help to facilitate that kind of conversation at the right time. Supporting teens through these moments can have a lasting impact as to who they can safely turn to when they face other life crises. It is an opportunity to set the stage for deepening our relationship with them for future life hurts and crises.

One Comment

  1. Kristen Veacock

    Well said Gerry! It is so tempting to go in there and share all about a heartbreak we had when younger. Just sitting with them or asking how you can help or if they would like a listening ear or advice has been something my daughter and I set up after she finally shared that she didn’t want me to go into “psychotherapizing” mode!
    I learned a lot from my daughter and what she needed. We have always let her know about those trusted adults who are safe and supportive people, along with those our daughter named as trusted in her inner circle. It’s hard when our children go to someone else who is trusted (adult) but that is where they will receive more objective conversations or that listening ear because they are not us! This was a great post.

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