How to Guide Your Teen Through Heartbreak
My first heartbreak crushed me when I was twelve years old. I was in love with a boy named, Jason. He was older than me, he smelled like Tide and he held my hand in the hallways in between classes.
He dumped me one Friday afternoon in November as we stood at my locker. It was right before art class and the feeling that came over me was unrecognizable. I went from being a confident, loud girl to not recognizing who I was–my body tried not to shake as I held in my tears.
I thought As I tried to gain composure and act normal, I thought, what is this feeling?
It was worse than when my best friend in 5th grade found a new best friend. It was worse than when my mom told me I absolutely couldn't have a $50 pair of GUESS jeans that everyone else had. In fact, it was worse than all of these experiences piled on top of each other. I couldn't eat lunch that day. I couldn't sleep that night. I had no idea that this kind of sadness existed.
Of course, I got over it very quickly and moved on but at the time, I was devastated. I remember my parents thinking it wasn't that big of a deal. I got zero special treatment to guide me through these new and uncomfortable feelings. They were dismissed like yesterday's news. My raw feelings and tears felt like an abnormal reaction, compared to what I’d ever witnessed or experienced before.
Now, as a parent to three teenagers, let's just say we've had our share of heartbreak in our home. Watching my kids go through this excruciating experience takes me right back to the multiple heartbreaks I endured as a teenager.
It doesn't matter how old you are, how long the relationship was, or the fact we know as adults there will be more people out there for our kids to fall in love with–heartbreak holds a unique, special kind of pain. With each fracture of the heart, we experience physical and emotional pain. So much so, popping a Tylenol after a break up has been known to take the edge off.
When our teens are suffering from a loss of love, it's hard on them and important to validate their feelings. It's easy to say things like, "Oh, there are other fish in the sea," or spit out words of wisdom like "If they don't want to be with you, why do you still want to be with them?" But it's not helpful, nor does it make our kids feel heard.
Validate Their Feelings
Teen therapist, Alyssa Prete LMHC, LPC of Knot + Clover in NY says it's important to validate your teen's feelings and give them room to grieve their relationship. "Yes your teen is young and you know they don't have much life experience, but the relationship they were in, no matter the duration or how serious it seemed to you, was very real and significant to them," says Prete. "Never tell them it wasn't a big deal, they need to be able to count on you to support them without judgment."
Share Your Relatable Experiences
It also may be helpful to share some of your experiences with them as it can "give them some perspective and see that you made it through to the other side, " says Prete. I told my kids about Jason from Junior high. Thinking of their mother as a young girl, who has gone through the same feelings, made them smile. I'm sure they were making fun of me on the inside, but it made them happy for the moment.
Encourage Them To Make Healthy Decisions
Your child may need some guidance during this time. Encouraging them to do something they love, getting together with friends, engaging in physical activity or stocking up on some new books are all ways to help them fill the time they used to spend with their ex, says Prete.
Keep An Eye On Them
It's important to watch your child a bit more closely to make sure their grieving and sadness is healthy and seems normal. "Keep an eye on your teen's appearance and behaviors post break-up to ensure their sadness doesn't turn into depression," says Prete adding, "Any continued sadness or grief lasting more than a few weeks to a few months, can indicate there is something else going on and finding a therapist for them to talk to may help."
It's always unsettling to watch our children suffer, no matter where their pain is coming from. It’s our natural instinct, as their parents, to free them from any pain, even though we know that's impossible.
The best thing we can do is to be there for our children. Sit with them, hug them, listen to them and make sure they’re moving forward.