Think back to when you fell in love for the very first time. When was that? For me, it was freshman year and her name was Carolina. I thought she was it! We dated all through our freshman year and into 10th grade. We were together all the time. And I mean all the time. Every weekend, we were at each other’s homes. My parents loved her and her parents loved me. Her mom even gave me a nick name—Lionel Joseph (from Trading Places). At school, I counted the minutes until that bell rang so I could see her between classes. I lived for those few moments spent in her presence. Even at the basketball games we were together. I played on the team and she danced with the pommers. I even danced with her a few times—I was known to cut a rug or two back in the day.
The point is that I fell hopelessly, head-over-heels in L-O-V-E with this girl. I had never experienced such intense feelings for another human being before and I had a hard time processing that. We were completely convinced that our love would stand the test of time and that we were destined to be together forever.
But like the overwhelming majority of high school dating relationships, ours ended in an explosion of drama and heartbreak. We actually had two breakups—one that I initiated and one that she did (hers was final). Both times I remember how much it hurt. I remember lots of crying on my part and wondering why this had to happen.
I have never been someone to be overly dramatic (although my parents might tell you differently), but those breakups hurt. There was the emotional pain that showed itself in the typical manner of not eating or sleeping but I clearly remember that it physically hurt my heart. I can’t explain the pain in my chest any other way than to say it hurt my heart.
As long as humans have been coupling off, I’m sure the breakup has been something that we’ve been dealing with. It’s not something just this generation deals with; but, as always, it seems that each generation adds their own unique flavor to a situation and this one is no different.
Working with teens and their families for almost 20 years, I’ve noticed a huge emphasis on abstaining from the physical side of teen relationships, but very little focusing on the emotional side of that. I’ve noticed over the years’ teens are becoming emotionally attached very quickly and deeply.
When teens give all of their emotional selves too quickly, it leads to doing so physically. And when you introduce sex into an immature dating relationship, things turn complicated and almost always end in earth shattering heartbreak.
Now, not all teen relationships are so intense or end badly, but quite a few do. And chances are, your teen will eventually find that first person they think could be “The One”. So as parents, what can we do to help our teens deal with the breakup of these intense relationships?
Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the way.
Don’t minimize their pain or feelings.
Standing where you are now and realizing that teen dating is just the beginning stages of relationships, we can minimize how important these boyfriends/girlfriends are to our kids. We look at them and think “how cute.” But to your child, these are real relationships and should be taken seriously.
Do not minimize the pain your child feels after a break up. It is real and it can be overwhelming. Don’t roll your eyes and tell them to wait a few years. Their pain is real now and since they haven’t dealt with this type of pain before, many teens aren’t sure how to handle it. If they can’t find a safe environment to work through the pain they will find unhealthy ways of dealing with it. And if your child confides in you, then give them your undivided attention and just remember how your first breakups felt.
Allow a grieving period
Not all breakups will be dramatic or intense, but for those that are, allow your teen some space to grieve the ending of the relationship. Give them time to mourn. Maybe you cut them some slack on chores or daily duties, maybe you let them skip school the day after, or maybe it’s something completely different. But whatever it looks like for your family, be aware that your child will grieve.
Give them a place to feel safe about expressing their feelings. Allow them to vent to either yourself or their friends. They will need an outlet for their thoughts and will need people to surround them.
But do not allow them to stay in a grieving state for too long. Encourage them to get up and get out after what you see is a healthy amount of time.
Don’t be intrusive
You well know that your teenager hates when they feel like we parents start to butt in. That being said, they need us for support and advice. But we need to be able recognize when that time is and when that time isn’t.
Don’t jump in too early or you’ll run the risk of shutting off any communication down the road. And DO NOT lecture or say things like “I told you so,” because you will effectively shut down communication.
Do allow your child the chance to come to you to ask for your help and advice. And when your teen does come to you, let them talk. Give your child a patient ear and a shoulder to cry on. Guide them with your life experience and then let them go do what it is you’ve suggested.
When the joy of acceptance turns to the heartbreak of rejection your teen is going to feel vulnerable and may question themselves as to the why of the break up. Some teens have and will go so far as to lay all the blame on themselves and act out in very unhealthy ways.
It is our joy and responsibility to love our children through the good and the bad. Give them support and the tools they need to move on.
Loving them will sometimes look like that ear or shoulder we talked about earlier but sometimes it’s a challenge to get up and get out. Sometimes it looks like you calling his or her friends over to distract them for a few hours or for the weekend. It might be that you have to play the bad guys and push them before they feel ready to be pushed.
You know your child better than anyone. Sometimes love is easy to give and receive but it can also be difficult. We have to recognize when it’s time for either.
Give them hope
In the midst of a teen breakup your child may not recognize that there will be others. They might have a hard time seeing past the love just lost. Give them hope. Tell them some stories from your teen years. Let them see some of your past pains and remind them that all is not lost. Teach them that most often the lessons learned from one relationship can help the next one be ever better.
You might be surprised how well your child responds when you give them even just a little hope. For me, the pain that was born from that intense breakup morphed into a life-long friendship. We had a few rocky years, but we remain friends to this day. And the lessons from mistakes made have helped me in all of my dating relationships and even aided me in make things work with a girlfriend that I would one day marry.
If we are able to impart that type of wisdom to our children, they will see that each experience builds on the next and if they can glean those nuggets of truth from each dating relationship they too will look back and see that one day all those experiences helped lead them to where they were to be all along.