Of course you knew this day would come, but not so soon. Your teen just experienced a first heartbreak, ending a romantic relationship. Maybe you never even liked the guy (or girl), but it’s still so painful to watch your child suffer. As a parent, you want to help but often just don’t know how. In this three part series, teen expert Dr. Gabriella Johr shares typical scenarios of teen and young adult relationship breakups. She offers guidance for parents, sharing ways to respond to your child without minimizing or overreacting in order to help your child move forward.
Q: My daughter is a 10th grader and just broke up with her boyfriend she was dating for four months. She ended the relationship but is acting devastated. I want to understand what she is going through, but I’m confused, frustrated and worried, since dating this boy for such a short period of time made such an impact.
A: 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, having a boyfriend or girlfriend is a way to define yourself among your peers. Also, most teens feel insecure about themselves, so revealing their intimate thoughts and feelings makes them feel extremely vulnerable. 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 want to agree with your teen’s view that life is over, but be careful not to minimize her feelings either. If you push her to get over this loss too quickly, she may feel ashamed of her feelings and turn that shame inward. Or she might rally to defend the relationship and prove to you just how meaningful it is (or was), both of which only prevent her from moving on.
Once you can understand the importance of intimate relationships in the life of a teenager, you will feel more compassionate and less worried about your daughter’s dramatic response.