Relationships between teens can be fickle: one day they can’t get enough of each other, the next day the exact opposite is the case. It’s hard when a former loved one disappears from their life. It’s also hard for parents to know what they should and especially shouldn’t say to support their teens through a breakup. Here’s what the experts suggest:
Don’t Offer Any Opinion Or Advice
Teens need time and space to work through all their conflicting and painful feelings. What they don’t need, says Amy Morin, senior expert at Understood.org, an education think tank, is for “you to take over, tell them how they should feel, or share what you’d have done or felt if you were in their shoes.” Don’t offer any opinion or advice. Instead, provide them with a safe space to express their feelings. Social worker Tasha Rube sums it up well: “focus more on listening than planning your response in your head.”
Don’t Minimize What They’re Going Through
As adults, we know that teen romances rarely last, but that doesn’t mean we should minimize what they’re going through. To teens, a relationship breakup can be very painful; they often think the relationship is going to last forever. Ms. Rube says that parents should avoid saying: “’I went through the same thing when I was your age and I don’t even think about it anymore. You’re going to be fine.’” Instead, she suggests, acknowledge their feelings and give them hope for the future by saying: “‘I know it hurts a lot right now, but remember that’s not forever.’”
But Don’t Exaggerate It Either
Don’t minimize what your teens are going through, but don’t exaggerate it either. Clinical psychologist Dr. Barbara Greenberg suggests that parents limit the amount of time they speak with their teens about their former partners as “talking about [them] endlessly will only fuel an unhealthy obsession.” Give them the time and space to work through their emotions and, once they feel better, help them move forward instead of focusing on the past.
Don’t Criticize Their Former Partner
Don’t criticize their former partner no matter how strong your own feelings might be. Child psychologist Dr. Michelle DeRasmus notes that “if parents say negative things about the ex, such as, ‘he wasn’t good for you anyway,’ it can make teens feel like their parents think they don’t make good decisions.” If they subsequently decide to reconcile, your teens may not come to you if a problem occurs, or you may be caught in the awkward position of having to defend what you said earlier.
Don’t Focus On Your Feelings
Keep your own feelings out of the breakup process altogether. “Remember to keep one thing in mind: It’s not your breakup,” says Ms. Morin. Indeed, “you don’t want your child to feel burdened about having to help you deal with your feelings as well as their own.” “If you need to talk to someone,” Ms. Rube adds, “discuss your emotions with your spouse or a close friend. Venting to others can help you keep your feelings in check.”
Don’t Rush Them Into A New Relationship
Finally, but no less important, don’t rush your teens into new relationships to make them feel better. “Most people need time to regroup before getting re-involved,” says Dr. Greenberg. “The risk of rebound relationships that don’t work out is too high and might send [them] into a tailspin.” Instead, Dr. Greenberg says, remind your teens that they’re still young and will meet plenty of people in the future.
Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences & Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.