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Beating the Breakup: How Parents can Help Their Teens

Hormones and emotions don’t run any higher than they do in high school, and long-term relationships and heat-of-the-moment flings aren’t news to most parents. Many teenagers begin experimenting with dating, relationships, and intimacy in high school, and while this can be a very good thing, there’s a downside, too—the breakup.

When teens break up, they spiral downhill fast. Without much prior experience to refer back to, heartbreak holds a sting for teens that many adults have left behind or forgotten. Many parents might even think teenage breakups aren’t something to worry about at all; the idea that breakups are great for teaching teens to build character and face adversity is widespread among parents of all generations and demographics. This may be true, but without the right guidance from their role models and friends, heartbroken teens might get stuck in a dark place or wallow in their sorrow for much longer than they should. Parents need to take teenage breakups and heartbreak seriously or risk serious consequences like depression, trust issues, low self-esteem, and even suicide. Here’s a list of things parents can do to keep heartbreak from getting the best of their teen.

Talk About It

This might seem like a given, but many teens will want to close up and keep their emotions a secret after they’ve been seriously hurt. They’ll think it’s easier to stay quiet than to enter into a vulnerable conversation and admit their true feelings. But as a parent, it’s your job to get them to open up and help them talk things out.

Start small; ask your teen how they’re feeling. They might respond with something like, “I’m fine,” but you need to keep going. Get the basics down, like if they’re still talking to their ex, who broke up with who, and why. Then, begin asking open-ended questions that require real answers. “What about this is hardest for you?” “What do you wish you could say to your ex?” and “What do you think will happen now?” are all good questions to prompt your teen to articulate their feelings. This will help you understand their situation, but it will also help them recognize and organize their emotions.

Also, it’s important not to put down your teen’s previous relationship, partner, or crush. Doing this will make it seem like you’re demeaning their opinions and feelings, which is the last thing you want. During your conversations, make sure to stay positive, empathize, practice empathic listening, and tell your teen you want to help them going forward.

Watch Out for Serious Slumps

Like I said earlier, teenage romance is usually seen like puppy love. It’s passionate, but ultimately naïve and innocent. But while it’s true teens don’t always understand the complications of relationships the same way as adults, they understand hurt just as well, if not more.

Teenagers are highly emotional, and they often take breakups very personally. Some recover fairly quickly, but others take the end of their relationship to heart and begin closing themselves off. After your teen goes through a breakup or rejection, keep your eyes peeled for long-lasting changes in their routine. You should expect a week or so of closed-off behavior, but if your teen has trouble getting out of bed, is staying up later than usual, talking to their friends less, slacking in school, or neglecting other responsibilities, it’s a sign your teen may be entering a stage of serious depression. This is normal, and up to 40% of teens actually experience clinical depression after a breakup, but it’s a sign you need to step in and do what you can to help.

To distract your teen from their breakup and get them back into a healthy routine, offer to go on walks or hikes with them, set up activities for them with their friends, and keep them active with chores and other small responsibilities. Once your teen is up and moving, they’ll be more likely to get back into a rhythm and begin moving on.

After a long period of time, if your teen still isn’t doing well, don’t be afraid to seek professional help from a counselor or therapist. This might be just the outlet our teen needs to express their feelings fully and regain their confidence and positivity.

Patience is Key

Breakups take a long time to process, even for adults. Your teen might’ve thought their boyfriend or girlfriend was “the one,” and losing them might seem like a serious blow. You need to allow your teen time to grieve, process their feelings, and discover what they want out of their next relationship. Otherwise, they might not ever realize how they can move on and form a healthy partnership in the future. While you might want to jump in and give all of your sage parental wisdom, it’s also good to step back and let your teen learn how to handle their own emotions.

Still listen and be supportive when your teen needs it—and definitely watch out for slumps—but don’t be too intrusive. Chances are, your teen is stronger than you think, and they’ll make it out of the woods eventually.

Author BioAndy 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.

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