Parenting Through a Teen Breakup

Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research on teen development in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at a Washington Post article which shows parents how help teens navigate dating and breaking up.

Every parent of a teen or tween anxiously awaits (dreads) the day their child start dating, and every parent seems to have a different philosophy about navigating it. How young is too young? How involved should parents be? Should teens be allowed to date at all? The reality is every teen is different, every family is different, and every parent should do what they believe is the right move for their teens’ specific situation and level of readiness. While a 2017 study found that teens are delaying dating and other behaviors like driving and (thankfully) underage drinking, most teens will become interested in love at some point and you should be ready.

The main reason parents worry about dating is not wanting their teen to get hurt. Because of this, restrictions like curfews or only allowing group dates are enforced. A lot of parents focus so narrowly on how they will handle their teen starting or continuing to date that they don’t put enough thought into how to handle the end of a teen relationship. To a hormonal and naive teen, a breakup can feel like the end of the world. Fueled by angsty teen movies, and hearing an endless barrage of love songs. A failed relationship can be very devastating to a teen, often vowing to never love again. As parents, it’s easy to brush this behavior off and even laugh knowing they’ll get over it quicker than a summer thunderstorm. The truth is, it’s important to be sensitive especially when the wound is fresh.

A recent Washington Post article tells the tale of a woman whose mother essentially told her to “get over it,” which is not what the author wanted to hear when she was simply seeking a safe place to vent and get affirmation. She goes on to explain how she plans to navigate this with her own daughter a little more gingerly, walking the line between being a shoulder to lean on while also explaining the reality of dating and love—it really sucks sometimes.

The piece offers a few ways parents can help their teen cope with a breakup while fostering a cycle of trust where your teen can feel comfortable opening up to you about tricky situations:

  • Show them how to build strong friendships. When teens start to make their own friends, they all learn (often quickly) that people can be mean, and rejection is commonplace. By encouraging your teen to build strong meaningful relationships that cut out bad influences and don’t engage in bullying, they’ll be better prepared to navigate the dating world.
  • Don’t minimize emotions. Before jumping in with advice, listen to your teen so you can understand the emotions they’re feeling. The emotions they express can and should dictate the conversation you have with them. Are they coping well? You should commend them for that. Are they angry? You can show them that while it’s fair to be mad, it’s not worth wasting too much energy over and keep them from acting irrationally.
  • Make time for conversation. Important conversations shouldn’t be had when you’re in a rush and don’t have time to really get into it. Brushing over these topics just teaches your teen to do the same and not address feelings head-on.
  • Share your own struggles. It’s often hard for teens to conceptualize the fact that yes, their parents had lives before kids came along, so it’s good to remind them that you were a teen once, too. Telling them stories from your past can help them realize that you understand what they’re going through and your advice is grounded in experience and empathy.

Dating is just one of the important conversations that every parent will have with their teen and if you focus on making it a positive and productive conversation, they’ll be more likely to keep you in the loop on what’s going on in their lives, good or bad. This could lead to them coming to you when they’re having other common teen troubles, such as peer pressure to drink or abuse substances. Have a conversation with your teen, whether they’re dating yet or not, to let them know you’re there to listen whenever they’re going through a tough time.

You can read the full Washington Post piece here.

Along with following our blog, you can keep up with the Stop Medicine Abuse campaign on Facebook and Twitter to stay updated on studies, parenting tips and more information on preventing teens from engaging in risky behaviors.

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