If your teen is at high school and is dating, the chances are that at some point in time, he or she will have to deal with a breakup. Some high school teens remain in happy, steady relationships for months – sometimes even years. But sooner or later, they could have a thunderous disagreement which they cannot reconcile and could end up parting.
If this happens to your teen for the first time, he or she could be devastated and heartbroken. Teens are emotional, irrational, and often volatile at the best of times. It’s not helped by the hormonal changes they undergo. But a breakup can worsen your teen’s behavior even more, and you, as a parent, need to be supportive. Here are some tips that will assist you in seeing your teen through this testing time.
Appreciate the significance of your teen’s breakup
Some parents think that their teens’ trysts are innocent things. They believe that they are useful for building character and learning social skills band that they don’t have any serious implications. But that is not the way your teen will see it. It could completely ruin his or her self-confidence, and if left unchecked, it can result in serious depression and even suicide.
Lucy O’Sullivan, a respected professor of psychology at the University of New Brunswick, says that almost half of the teens that experience breakups develop clinical depression as a result. She underlines the fact that breakups are believed to be the number one cause of suicide in teens.
The bottom line is that while many teens are perfectly capable of getting over a serious breakup, if you’re not there to give your teen the proper guidance, he or she may resort to drastic measures.
The first thing you must do is to empathize with your teen. Don’t dismiss the situation by saying something along the lines of, “A lot of high school relationships end in breakups anyway,” hoping that that will put the problem into perspective. It almost certainly won’t. Instead, you should say something like, “I know this is tough. Breaking up is a dreadful business.”
While you know that your teen still has a full life ahead of him or her, and that given time, he or she will get over it; at this point, as far as your teen is concerned, it will feel like the end of the world. It’s vital that you recognize this and that you’re prepared to give him or her all the understanding and support you can.
Take time to listen without interrupting
You, as a parent, will have plenty of advice to impart to your teen. You may have had a similar experience in your own teen years. But keep schtum. The last thing that will help your teen at this critical point in time is to be given lots of platitudes or anecdotes. They might be well-meaning, but that is not what your teen wants to hear. Keep quiet and listen.
Your teen son or daughter needs to be heard. He or she wants to know that you fully understand what has happened and that you validate the situation in which he or she has found themselves. You need to listen with empathy.
Being empathetic means more than merely nodding along as your teen unloads. Act actively interested by keeping eye contact, expressing with your eyes, and using body language that says you are interested and concerned. After a while, when the opportunity presents itself, you can ask some thoughtful, considered questions. Keep your teen talking and let the emotions spill out.
Whatever you do, don’t criticize the other party. Without knowing the full facts that may take some time to reveal themselves, you could make matters worse. If you are desperate to try and illustrate any positives about the split, you could always enquire as to whether your teen thought the partner lacked anything or needed to work on some aspects of their character. It means you remain in a neutral position and encourages your teen to draw his or her own conclusions.
Things to look out for
Breakups can have unsettling effects. In worst-case scenarios, they can have lasting impacts on your teen’s mental health. One way of judging whether or not this is happening is to keep an eye on your teen’s routines. If he or she is staying up too late or not sleeping well, falling behind in school, abandoning his or her hobbies, not eating, staying isolated, and is quieter than usual – it could well be an indicator that he or she is slipping into a depressive mode.
When you do spot a change to your teen’s schedule, one thing you can do is to try and encourage him or her to begin a new routine. One way you can do this is to give your teen certain chores that need to be done at specific times. Keeping him or her busy and their minds on other subjects can really help. You can even think about contacting your teen’s circle of friends to come up with some social distractions.
Changes in teens’ routines are quite common following a breakup. If you can, try and ensure that any slump you notice is kept short term rather than allowing it to turn into something more onerous.
Today’s teens love their social media. However, while it presents many benefits, the flipside is that it can also worsen the hardships of dealing with breakups. Research undertaken by the Pew Research Centre concluded that over 33% of teenagers block or ax their ex-partners on social media for any number of reasons. It may be for their own well-being, or it may be the manifestation of a revenge motive.
Keeping tabs on your teens use of social media
Following social media after a breakup can be a significant factor that influences how well your teen copes with the new situation. Fear of missing out and emotions of jealousy can all too easily rise to the top of your teen sees photos of his or her ex on what was their joint feed.
In order to lessen the chances of social media having an adverse impact on your teen, it might be well worth talking about limiting his or her screen time. This includes mobile phones too.
Make sure though that your teen doesn’t feel he or she is being punished by suggesting they spend less time on social media. Try if you can to get them to realize that you are simply trying to get them to focus on other things and other people who can help both now and in the long term.
Keeping a cool head
Every breakup is different. Some teens will get over it in a matter of weeks while others stumble on for months. If this is your teen’s first breakup it’s essential not to make them feel as if they’re being rushed or that the situation is being allowed to get out control. It’s crucial that your teen should realize that you are there with him or her every step of the way. They need to deal with their feelings before jumping straight back into the dating pool.
When, in your own opinion, you feel sufficient time has passed since the breakup, you ought to bring the topic up again so that you can see for yourself what emotional state your teen is now in. Breakups often result in significant changes being made to a teen’s attitude and outlooks on life. Keep an eye out to make sure that any changes are not unhealthy.
If you are concerned that your teen seems to be taking overly long to recover after a breakup and you think it could result in a mental problem, don’t be afraid to talk to counselors and therapists. These guys are professionals, and it is their job to gauge a teen’s reactions and, if necessary, develop strategies that can improve the young person’s perspective.
You set the pace
Even as adults, in the immortal words of the song, breaking up is hard to do. Recovering from the aftermath requires patience, and a team of well-meaning supporters can go a long way to help. But as a parent, it is your job to lead the team, care for your distraught teen, and nurse him or her back to emotional stability.
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.