Teenage Heartbreak: How Parents Can Help Their Teen Get Over It

art-0113-teenagerBeing a teenager is not easy. Teenagers spend time trying to fit in, and worrying about the latest trends and gossip, not to mention keeping their grades up so their parents don’t get on their backs. It’s the only time in their lives they’re still allowed to act like kids but are physically mature enough to participate in adult activities like dating.

At seventeen, I met my high school sweetheart. I had had other boyfriends, but our relationship was the first where I really felt loved and understood. After a year of dating he asked me to marry him, and of course I said yes. Another year was spent planning and organizing the big day. Then, with our wedding only weeks away, my fiancé told me that he did not want to be with me anymore.

I was so young and inexperienced that I had planned for no other contingency besides “happily ever after.” For weeks I avoided my parents and what I thought were their prying questions. My mother sent me to a counselor, but I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my feelings. I felt like no one could possibly understand the heartbreak I was experiencing. After months of self-loathing and high-risk behavior, I found myself standing in the United States Navy Recruiting Office signing up for a new life.

In hindsight, I realize that my experience was very typical, emotionally speaking. Teens, in general, have a tendency to believe that matters of the heart are definite and long-lasting. The affect a breakup has can feel all-consuming. When teens are experiencing heartbreak, their emotions can be very powerful and unyielding since those feelings may not have been experienced before, or the experience may trigger a reoccurrence of other unresolved emotions.

Knowing your teen and how he is affected by stress is essential for knowing how to support him through heartbreak. Here are ways to help:

Invest time in your teen.

How do you go about monitoring your teen’s behaviors without seeming like you’re smothering? According to Marriage and Family Therapist Laura Best, program coordinator at Northern Valley Catholic Social Service, it is important to sit down with your teen regularly to discuss his feelings about relationships, friends and romances. “Try to eat one meal a day together and share your day,” suggests Best, adding that family time is important to maintaining a strong family unit. If your teen feels uncomfortable discussing personal feelings with you, encourage him to talk with someone he trusts, like a teacher, mentor or pastor.

Be open and available.

Invite your teen to come to you with his problems. Remember that it is important for your teen to learn to make tough decisions – try not to give advice. “A lot of teens will come to their own conclusions,” says Best. Instead of forcing a teen to talk, let him know that you are there for him by opening a dialogue without dismissing his feelings for the relationship as “puppy love.”

Be a good role model.

How you interact in your own relationships will teach your child from a very young age about how relationships function. If you do not handle breakups well or are in relationships that cause you stress, your teen watches that cycle and is likely to repeat it in his own life. Being a good role model can show your teen how to handle the unexpected blows life throws at all of us.

Be prepared for anything.

What happens when your teen doesn’t ask for help?  If you are noticing him sleeping excessively, not showing interest in activities that use to bring him joy, or if your teen is having suicidal thoughts, it’s time to get help whether he  has asked for it or not. According to Best, it is important to give your teen the option of making the decision to go to therapy, but ultimately it’s up to parents to take the initiative and seek help. Make an appointment with a therapist, and give your teen a few sessions to become comfortable with the process. If you are dissatisfied with one therapist, find someone else, and keep trying until the underlying problem is solved.

Breakups are hard for anyone to get over. Being there for your teen when the world kicks dirt at him will teach your teen how to be a strong person and where to go for help when it’s needed. Spend time getting to know your teen. Developing a strong relationship will be the best investment you’ll ever make. 

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Resources for Teens (and Parents)

Giving your teen the option of seeking counseling is important. Here are several national programs that offer resources and specialize in talking with troubled teens. Most offer toll-free phone lines that operate 24-hours, 7 days a week, and also offer communication via email, and live web chats during specific hours.

  • California Youth Crisis Line: 1-800-843-5200 (24/7); http://www.youthcrisisline.org (offers live chat). Confidential hotline for teens and young adults ages 12-24 and/or adults supporting youth.
  • Covenant House Nineline: http://www.nineline.org (chat avail.); 1-800-999-9999 (2-6pm Pacific Time daily). Helps young people gain access to crisis and counseling services, and is a resource for parents seeking guidance about difficult family situations.
  • National Runaway Switchboard: 1-800-RUNAWAY (1-800-786-2929; 24/7); http://www.1800runaway.org (online chat 2:30pm-9pm Pacific Time). Provides education and solution-focused interventions, non-sectarian, non-judgmental support and confidentiality for at-risk youth and their families.
  • Your Life, Your Voice: 1-800-448-3000; http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org. National program for kids, teens and young adults. Call, email or use webchat to talk with a counselor.
  • Youth American Hotline: http://www.youthline.us; 1-877-YOUTHLINE (1-877-968-8454; specific hours). A peer-to-peer hotline network.

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Heather Hierling
About Heather Hierling

Heather Hierling has a passion for informing and entertaining parents on relevant topics. Her teenage son Jacob constantly inspires her writing.

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