What to say? not say? Is there a time to force the breakup–or would that just backfire? What’s your business as a Mom and Dad anyway?
Breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend is a major stressor in the life of a teenager. A teenager’s intimate relationships take on special meaning. For starters, most teens feel insecure about themselves, so revealing their intimate thoughts and feelings to another person is a very vulnerable position. Also, having a boyfriend or girlfriend is a way to define yourself among your peers. Losing that relationship can feel catastrophic, so there is no surprise when teenagers act as if a break up marks the “end of the world.”
As a parent, how you respond in this situation is tricky. Certainly, you don’t to join in your teen’s view that life is over. However, you can’t minimize the importance of the relationship either. This can result in two unproductive outcomes: 1) You will evoke feelings of shame for being so invested in the first place and 2) your teen will rally to defend the relationship and prove to you just how meaningful it is (or was), both of which only prevent him/her from moving on.
So what do you do?
1) Let them know that you realize that this relationship was important. Ask them to talk about why it was so important, what they liked and disliked about the person, what they would like to see happen and what would help them move on. While they may have trouble putting all of this into words, asking relays that you understand it was special.
2) Let them know that all meaningful relationships take time to get over. Remind your teen that initially it will be really painful and it will be something they think about a lot, but that over time they will slowly start to feel better.
3) Ask if they have one trusted friend (not someone who will gossip) that they can talk to at school if they are feeling sad or preoccupied with the situation (they will be preoccupied by this). Encourage them to use their support. Even talking to a teacher or school counselor could be helpful if the teen feels too vulnerable to talk to peers.
What do you NOT do?
1) Don’t say things to minimize the relationship. For example, “You can’t fall in love when you are so young, you don’t know what love is, there are more fish in the sea, he was your first boyfriend, you’ll have many more, get over it already.”
2) Don’t encourage your teen to focus on a new boyfriend/girlfriend, as replacing relationships is not a way to handle loneliness and disappointment. It is healthier to mourn the loss of a relationship in order to move on.
3) Don’t JUDGE! When your teen talks about the relationship it may be hard to see it as a meaningful, deep and defining moment. Don’t compare it to an adult relationship. To a teenager, any romantic relationship is defining, since they are in the process of defining themselves.