Their first relationship can happen at 11 or 17, it can last a week or three years – but no matter how intense or lukewarm, if the other person ends it, it inevitably leads to heartache.
We’ve all been there and we know how it all seems like the end of the world. Your teen will not want to see anyone or do anything; they may blame others or – worse still – themselves.
What can you do, as a parent, to help your teen mend their broken heart? Unfortunately, not much. Some teens will be more resilient than others, but now is not the time to berate yourself for not exposing them to more disappointments when they were toddlers.
Be there for them
The most important thing is to be there. Whether your teenager wants to talk about it or be left alone, they need to know that you’re emotionally available. Taking them to the movies, baking their favourite pie or going easy on them if they neglect to take out the garbage may be as important as giving them pearls of wisdom about relationships and passing sorrows. Make them feel loved and important.
When they’re ready to talk, let them vent. Listen and don’t give advice unless they ask for it explicitly. Avoid unhelpful comments like “I told you so” or “He wasn’t good enough for you”.
Some of the things they will need to hear from you include:
- “Your feelings are legitimate.”
- “It’s not your fault.”
- “You are every bit as wonderful, whether you’re alone or in a relationship.”
- “You will feel a little better next week.”
Sometimes, chocolate helps.
Give it time
This sounds like a brush-off, a cliché and a cop-out all in one, and yet time will really help heal this wound. Here is a quote from a college teacher: “Get on with it. One foot in front of the other. Eat well. Maintain healthy sleep routines. Take a detox from social media and your phone. Focus on moving up a grade in every school subject. Life provides its own distractions.”
Speaking of distractions, yes, definitely. Change of scenery might do wonders, especially if it’s outdoors, away from the Wi-Fi. It’s not running away, it’s part distraction and part self-care. The pain will go with you, but at least all the memories aren’t in your face. The nature will stimulate the production of a make-you-feel-good hormone called serotonin, while family and friends will help the teen’s body release oxytocin.
Physical exertion is again part distraction, part adrenaline, part endorphins, and is guaranteed to dull the pain. Kicking a punching bag is highly effective.
A controlled amount of extra screen time (TV, games, online chatting) may be recommended during this tricky time.
Teens find it difficult to project forward, because they live in the now. Having something scheduled for tomorrow, next week and next month reminds them that there is a future.
Here’s a suggestion from another parent: “Help them to look outside themselves too. They could consider volunteering.” Helping others often focuses your attention on, well, other people’s problems.
This one is a top-secret message just for parents, so don’t share it with your teen: in most cases, the first relationship is just a training exercise for the more permanent thing. Note that I didn’t say “training exercise for the real thing”, because every relationship is the real thing, no matter how long it lasts. Of course, at this stage it won’t help your teen to be told “there are other fish in the sea” because there is only one fish they want.
But for all parents out there: this too shall pass.
What if your teen initiates the break-up?
If your teen is the one is danger of breaking someone’s heart and they confide in you, here are a few things you might suggest they do:
- Break up in person, not online.
- Be honest, but not brutally so.
- Be kind.
- Give the ex the space they need, but don’t ignore them when you run into them.
- Don’t discuss the relationship with friends: the details are between you and your ex. “It didn’t work out” should be sufficient for all the onlookers.
Stages of teen relationships
These may differ from group to group, but the journey towards becoming a couple (and the intensity of the relationship) can progress as follows:
- Messaging– typically online messages or facetime with multiple people.
- Talking– this is still be online, but may include face-to-face contact, and usually indicates you’re exclusive, or at least interested in talking exclusively with that one person.
- Having a thing or being a thing– you are exclusive, and people know about you, however, you’re still not comfortable being labelled a couple.
- Being a couple orbeing official– this is what Generation X called being “boyfriend and girlfriend”. The new terms allow for sexual orientation and non-binary genders.
- Hooking up – My teenage consultant was vague. As far as I understood, it could mean having sex or a kissing session. Usually reserved for more temporary relationships, although it might lead to becoming a couple.