Do you have a teenager who’s actively dating?
Or has your teenager just broken up with their boyfriend or girlfriend?
Adolescent romance is an important developmental marker for a teenager’s self-identity, functioning and capacity for intimacy. It is important to validate your adolescent’s emotions when they are with a new boyfriend or girlfriend, and also after a break up. Even if you don’t think the relationship will last, supporting your teenager, and acknowledging the rush of feelings they may be having when they meet a new boyfriend or girlfriend, is essential as a parent.
More than 50% of teenagers report having been in a romantic relationship by the time they are 15 years old, with numbers increasing with their age. However interestingly, only 2% of marriages are from relationships that began in high school. Break ups are an inevitable part of adolescence, and also affect you as a parent as you watch your son or daughter go through this process. You are the one who’s there to see the heartbreak; the array of emotions such as anger, sadness, guilt or distress. It is also common for teenagers to appear happy and say ‘they don’t care’; they may possibly start acting out of character or being spontaneous, however deep down they are hiding their true feelings.
As a parent, you may be concerned that you don’t know how to best support your teenager in the way that is most helpful for them, or worried that their break up reaction could lead to other unhelpful relationships in the future. Offering compassion and understanding of what they are experiencing is a way for you to connect with your teenager and make them feel supported. Phrases such as “I know this is a hard time for you and I’m here for you” are positive and supporting. Try to avoid saying things like “it isn’t a big deal” or “you knew it wouldn’t last” as this will distance your teenager from you.
Some research suggests that female adolescents are more likely to date or become emotionally involved, and have an increased capability for developing and maintaining romantic relationships compared to their male peers. However, a young man can be just as hurt by a break up as a woman. In fact it may more likely depend on their personality rather than gender.
Expect your adolescent to rely on you more than usual, especially if this is in their personality, and make yourself emotionally and physically available where possible. Teenagers have lesser ability than adults to make longer-term decisions and understand consequences. As an adult, you have perspective that life goes on after a relationship. Rather than saying “they weren’t right for you anyway” or “there are other fish in the sea”, inspire hope for their future whilst encouraging them to discuss their emotions. The grieving process will help to heal but remember to expect a rollercoaster of emotions during this time.
How you can best support your teenager
- Be a good listener by letting your teen talk openly, without you interjecting your opinions. Let them get their emotions and thoughts out in the open
- Have a conversation with your teen about taking a technology break in the days or weeks after the breakup, to ensure they don’t post anything on social media they’ll regret
- Take your teenager out for their favorite thing to do, to remind them that life is great with or without a partner
- Allow your teenager to wallow for a few days and then encourage them to get back into their usual routine of homework, chores, sport, and social outings
- It is important to support your teenager’s decision around the break up. Don’t talk them out of the breakup or suggest they made the wrong choice. It can be helpful for your teenager to make mistakes and learn from their own choices
Did you know?
Romantic relationship concerns are the fifth most common reason for adolescents to seek professional support? With break ups being the most common type of relationship concern for teenagers (irrespective of age or gender), it is a shared challenge for all adolescents.
Even with the best intentions, you might not always be the right person to best support your teen with a breakup. On occasion a mental health care professional, such as a psychologist, may need to be involved if their normal behavioural or emotional functioning has been impacted for more than a two week period.
Relationship breakups are associated with increased depression, stress and anxiety, therefore adolescents in the dissolution stages of a relationship have an increased likelihood to present with mental health concerns. Psychologists are especially warranted if you notice signs of extended low mood, changing in their eating behaviour, large changes in sleep, or self-harm behaviours.
Written by Jennifer Hawken – Psychologist – www.creatingchange.net.au