Dos and don'ts of helping a teen after a breakupWritten by Michael Ross
Barbara didn’t feel like eating.
The only thing that sounded remotely appealing to this 46-year-old single parent was locking herself in her bedroom and curling up under the covers for the rest of her life.
Yet she had to think about her teenage daughter, Nicole. After all, even though Barbara had recently lost a husband, Nicole had lost a father. And now her 17-year-old was dealing with the pain of her first breakup.
"Honey, you haven’t touched your spaghetti," Barbara said, then took a bite, just to set an example. "You’ve got to eat, otherwise you’ll get sick."
Nicole shot an angry look at Barbara. "Too late, Mother," the 17-year-old snapped. "I’m already sick, sick of all the lousy stuff that’s happening to us."
The teenager’s words stung. "I know you’re hurting," Barbara said. "That’s why I really want to hear what’s going on inside – "
Before Barbara could utter another word, Nicole stood up, threw her fork on the table and stormed out of the kitchen.
Barbara slumped back in her chair and pushed her food away. She knew she needed to be a source of strength for Nicole and reach out more than ever. But how?
Later that evening, Barbara tapped on her daughter’s bedroom door. "Nicole, can I come in?"
Barbara pushed open the door. "I just wanted a good-night kiss . . . and maybe a hug."
Nicole just blinked.
Barbara sat down on the edge of the bed and embraced her daughter.
The dos and don’ts
When a young person like Nicole has experienced the thrill of first love along with the crushing blow of a first breakup, it’s natural for a parent to want to fix things. But exactly how can you promote healing?
While you can’t guard your teen from a broken heart, you can help her move from rejection to connection.
Do take seriously your teen’s emotions. Don’t dismiss a first breakup as a minor experience. The worst thing you can say is, "You’re just a kid, get over it," or "It was just a dating relationship, not real life." Understand that your teenage child is dealing with adult-sized emotions. The pain is real, and she needs your sympathy. Also, keep in mind that a child of a single-parent home is already dealing with wounds of loss and rejection. A breakup can cause deep insecurities to surface.
Do give her time to grieve. Don’t expect your teen to bounce back overnight. You’re well aware that "ripped flesh" takes time to heal. Give your teen plenty of space. But on the flip side, don’t allow her to become isolated.
Do offer a listening ear. Don’t be fearful of deep emotion. As your child opens up, it’s probably best not to say much at all. Just be there with her and listen. Encourage your teen to talk. It’s helpful for the grieving person to put feelings into words. At the same time, allow tears.
Do give hugs. Don’t force advice. Share your heart, not your mind. If your teen asks for your opinion or advice, give it. If not, don’t. But remember this: When your teen seeks your advice, don’t feel you have to offer the best wisdom or the perfect Bible verses. A child who has been rejected in a relationship – just as someone who has lost a loved one through death or divorce – has usually heard all the right answers from other caring friends and family. But the heart is where it hurts the most. So intellectual answers really won’t help much or bring comfort.
Michael Ross, a former youth pastor, was a popular youth speaker and editor of Breakaway magazine, a publication for teen guys by Focus on the Family, at the time of publication.
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