Most of us can remember when it happened to us! The internal anguish that we thought would never end. There was no comfort, no solace, and no hope!
No matter what anyone else said you could not be consoled. This person, the one who had just broken your heart, was the only one you had ever loved or could ever love like that again.
Can you remember?
Teenage broken heartedness is one of the rites of passage. Apparently the only way to get to “grown-up-hood” is via the path of rejection, unrequited love, or tragic bad timing. Even if one does not have their heart trampled via romantic misadventure, the chance of them escaping adolescence without having some hope or dream shattered is pretty slim.
It is one thing to have survived your own teenage trauma, it another thing entirely to watch your own child survive theirs. It is one of the many “helpless moments” of parenting.
Hoping that it won’t happen to your kid is not a great strategy (unless such hope is backed up by locking your teen in a cell for 10 years -not recommended). It is going to happen, so best be prepared.
What can parents do besides feeling helpless? What shouldn’t parents do when feeling helpless?
This post provides 10 rules for what parents should and shouldn’t do when helping their teen negotiate their first broken heart.
1. Thou Shall Not Say “I Know How It Feels”
Throughout adolescence teenagers become more aware of there own feelings. Emotions become stronger and tend to play a bigger part in life than during late childhood.
When this emotional awareness is combined with their still developing thinking abilities your teenager will believe that their emotions are completely unique to them. They will be convinced that no one else in human history has felt “exactly” how they felt or how they currently feel.
By all means say things like “I can’t imagine how you must be feeling” or “That sounds really, really hard to deal with”. The trick is to show empathy without for a second denying the uniqueness of their situation.
2. Thou Shall Not Say “You Will Find Someone Else”
I am not sure you should say this to anyone of any age with a broken heart, but definitely don’t say it to a teenager in the throngs of despair.
There are two reasons for not saying this. Firstly it violates the same belief of uniqueness discussed in the previous commandment. Finding someone else who could generate such feelings will seem impossible to your teen.
Secondly when you say something like that your teen will be convinced that you do not grasp the gravity of the situation. This was the one; the once in a lifetime chance. When you say there will be someone else, or another chance in the future, you are in effect diminishing the experience your teen is going through.
3. Thou Shall Not Say “Just Get Over It”
This should be a no brainer, but I put it in here particularly for us Dads, who sometimes speak without fully engaging our brains.
Your teen will feel like they unable to get over it – ever! Some of the more tragic ones will not want to get over it, they will cherish the grief and pain as the last memento of the best thing that ever happened to them.
All that is achieved by telling a teen to get over it is you making your teen less inclined to seek comfort or help from you.
4. Thou Shall Not Worry If They Talk More to Friends Than To You
Don’t get stressed if your teen spends hours confiding in their friends while you struggle to get two or three words at a time out of them.
Don’t take offense and don’t try and impose yourself. It is perfectly natural for teens to seek counsel from their peers instead of their parents. This is a normal part of adolescent development.
What is important is that you keep letting your teen know you are there for them and asking them how they are going. Don’t take their desire to share the drama with their friends as a sign they don’t or won’t need you. They do and they will.
5. Thou Shall Not Tell Them Your Own Stories (Not straight away)
Along with violating their sense of uniqueness already discussed, the risk of telling stories about your own heartbreak is your teenager will feel like you are taking the focus away from them and making their tragedy all about you.
Empathy is good, but sometimes self-referential stories will not come across as understanding, but rather as you not focusing on them.
Once the trauma is in the past and your teen is getting some perspective and able to start looking to the future then it might be a helpful bonding thing to share some of your own war stories.
6. Thou Shall Offer Some Comfort
The best thing you can do for a grieving teen is offer to comfort them. This might mean giving more cuddles than normal, sitting with them over coffee or hot chocolate, making some of their favourite meals, sharing some special treats, putting on a movie marathon of their favourite movies, or just spoiling them in a few small ways.
Showing your teen that you care by doing some extra special things helps them to feel like you are there for them and are acknowledging the significance of what they are going through.
7. Thou Shall Let Them Cry
Crying is good. Better to get the feelings out that have them churn and eat away inside.
Parent want to stop kids from crying because they think on some level that if they aren’t crying things are somehow better than when they are crying. It isn’t a rational thought, but it is a common behavior.
Even if it is hard to watch your child cry, it is important just to let them. Give them a shoulder to cry on, be there to dispense tissues, or just leave them alone on their bed.
Sometimes we all need a good cry!
8. Thou Shall Let Them Have Some Space
Although it is important to demonstrate to your teenager that you care, it is also important to allow them to have their own space. All teenagers are different. Some will want lots of space and only come out their room to eat, while others are inclined to be more tactile and need people around all the time.
As a parent you know your teenager best. Don’t worry however if they do spend extended hours alone in their room, or out on the verandah staring into space. Just let them be. There still needs to be limits and respect, like showing up for meals and responding to requests politely, but within acceptable limits let them come back when they are ready.
9. Thou Shall Validate Their Feelings
Even though it is important not to say you know exactly how they feel, it is equally important to acknowledge your teenagers feelings and to validate them. (I have written in more detail about validating your teenager’s feelings here).
You validate their feelings when you say things like “That must be really hard” or “I can see you are hurting” or “I am so sorry that things turned out that way.” Let your teen know that it is okay to feel how they feel and that it makes sense in the circumstances that they would feel this way.
10. Thou Shall Keep Your Own Stuff Out Of It
This isn’t about you. This is not your chance to be a hero, to be all wise and knowing, to say I told you so, to play cupid, or to compare war stories about your own past. This is about your teenager. What they need from you is all the above without any baggage attached.
So there you go the 10 do’s and don’t’s of parenting brokenhearted teenagers. It may not make you feel less helpless, but it might give you some clarity about how to be helpful.
Have you got other tips for helping brokenhearted teens? If so please share them with us in the comments below.