Parenting

So Your Teen Just Got Dumped

What do you do?

Breakups are tough at any age, but for teenagers, the end of a relationship can feel like the end of the world, especially if they swore their partner was “the one.” As parents, watching your teen navigate the stormy seas of a breakup can be gut-wrenching. In today’s digital age, with social media amplifying emotions and spreading information quickly, the process can be even more daunting. Here’s how you can support your teen during this challenging time. 

Acknowledge Their Pain

First and foremost, acknowledge your teen’s feelings. Their pain is real and valid, even if the relationship was relatively short-lived. Dr. LaToya Flowers-Roe, Clinical Training Director and Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, says to be available to your teen, respond in a way that makes them feel loved, and do not minimize the loss. “Let them know that you are around if they need to talk or just be with someone in the same room,” she explains. “Remember that heartbreak is comparable to physical pain, so avoid saying things like ‘just get over it.’”

Encourage Open Communication

Create a safe space for your teen to express their feelings without fear of judgment. Let them know it’s okay to talk about their heartbreak and that you are there to listen. Sometimes, just being there to listen can be the most supportive action you take. 

Monitor Social Media Use

In the age of Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok, breakups can be played out on a public stage. Gently suggest that your teen take a break from social media (we know– this is easier said than done, but please, trust the process) to avoid constant reminders of that ex and potential online drama. “Social media also perpetuates the illusion of constant connection, making it very difficult for teenagers to disengage from their former partners,” says Zuania Capó, MHC-LP. “While this may initially provide a sense of comfort, it ultimately prolongs the healing process and prevents both parties from moving on and healing.”

Set an Example

Teens often learn how to handle emotional distress by watching their parents. Demonstrate healthy emotional responses and coping mechanisms in your own life. Show them that it’s okay to feel sad but that it’s also possible to keep pushing forward. 

Promote Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Encourage your teen to find healthy ways to cope with their emotions. This could include physical activities like sports or dance, creative outlets such as writing or art, or simply spending time with best friends who can offer support. Once they discover some positive coping strategies, you may suggest they take some time to reflect on the relationship. “Discuss what’s helped and what hasn’t in coping with the breakup,” explains Karen Cicero, author of “How to Help Your Teen Through a Breakup.” She also reminds parents, “If your teen’s distress continues for more than two weeks or their behavior starts to concern you, consider consulting a mental health professional.”

Seek Professional Help If Needed

As Cicero said, if your teen’s mood doesn’t improve after two weeks or so, or they start exhibiting signs of depression or anxiety, it may be time to consult a professional. “If your teen is being terrible to themselves and others after a few days, they may need professional support to develop coping mechanisms,” says Dr. Lisa Damour, PhD, author of The Emotional Lives of Teenagers. If your child has never seen a therapist before for any reason, help explain the process to them– don’t just throw them in head first. 

Final Quick Tips

While you can’t shield your teen from the pain of a breakup, you can provide the support and guidance they need to navigate this challenging time. By validating their feelings, encouraging open communication, and promoting healthy coping mechanisms, you can– and will– help your teen emerge from their heartbreak with resilience and strength. 

This article was originally published in July 2024.

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