Ins and outs of teen breakups

Psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini says teens struggle with issues of self esteem and self discovery....

Psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini says teens struggle with issues of self esteem and self discovery. (Supplied)

JOANNE RICHARD, Special to QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:20 PM ET

What becomes of a broken heart?

For teenagers, overwhelming relationship bliss can quickly turn to the heartache of breakups and betrayals - plain and simple misery.

"Teen breakups can be very traumatic. Feeling accepted, liked and supported by one's peers is every child's dream. What their friends say and do really matters in terms of how they see themselves," says therapist Dr. Terri Orbuch.

"A breakup can leave a teen feeling undesirable, not liked and angry - and more often than not they thought the relationship would last a lifetime."

According to psychotherapist Mary Jo Rapini, teens are in the process of developing their sense of self, so they struggle with issues of self esteem and self discovery. "If you date someone who later says bad things about you or rejects you for any reason it is hard to let it go."

Orbuch, a professor at Oakland University, says that the pressure to date and have a romantic relationship happens at an earlier age now. E-mail, texts, Facebook and video chatting also have teens hyper-connected to their peers.

But while dating is a natural part the teenage growth process, parents wince at the potential outcome - misery for all, for a while.

"Dating is going to affect your child's mood, performance in school, home life and friendships. We also realize that there is a 90% chance that he's going to break her heart," says Rapini, co-author of Start Talking: A Girl's Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex or Whatever.

"[Parents have] been around, and we know the feeling of a shattered heart, a betrayed confidence, and the misery of being alone."

But, adds Rapini, a broken heart can be the greatest lesson we ever learn or go through. "It helps you see parts of yourself you didn't know you had. It shows teens their feelings about how much they are willing to work on a relationship as well as to what extent they will try to negotiate with someone.

"The best thing it teaches teens is that they made it through someone breaking their heart and they are still okay. They learn that having a broken heart doesn't feel good, but that they are strong enough to endure it and to love again."

Meanwhile, breakups are risky, so parents must stay on watch, particularly if their son or daughter is the jilted party, says Dr. Carl Pickhardt, an adolescent specialist. "Often more for young women there can be a risk of despondency/depression; often more for young men there can be a risk of retaliation/aggression."

Tune into red flags or signals, agrees Orbuch. "For example, severe changes in grades, how they dress or take care of themselves, changes in eating or sleeping habits, total withdrawal from friends or other extracurricular activities, or that he/she doesn't want others to touch or talk to him/her."

She adds that "for parents, as much as you wish, you can't take away your teen's pain from exclusion or breakups nor promise them that they will be included or that their next relationship will be the 'one'."

Help the healing

You can't cure all their hurts but be sure to stay involved with tips from relationship expert, Dr. Terri Orbuch:

Don't press too hard. Breakups can be a difficult topic for your teen to confess or discuss with you. "Just being available and supportive is the first step. Be empathic as well," says Orbuch.

Listen and ask questions. "Sometimes as parents we want to tell them what to do or feel - or that it will be better soon. Don't dismiss how they are feeling. Don't lecture," says Orbuch. Try to remember what it was like when you were a teen and how important your peers' thoughts and feelings were to how you felt about yourself.

Schedule time together. Plan a few weekend fun activities together that the teen likes to do. "Sometimes they may not want to talk about the breakup with you - but they need your company and need to know that you are there."

Encourage special strengths. Every child has a gift or a unique strength. After a breakup, your teen may not feel great about him/herself - rejection can be difficult. "Help your teen identify what is really special or unique about them, like being a good singer, writer, student. Use positive labels to help them reframe themselves and increase their self esteem."

Help manage frustrations/anger. Offer healthy outlets and coping strategies - a journal, talking to a mentor or older sibling, expressing themselves in a creative way, like music, painting, drawing, or exercising to release the anger constructively. "You as a parent must also model these coping strategies," says Orbuch. "Your teen is much more likely to do as you do, rather than as you say."

Words to soothe a broken heart:

Tell them that you understand how they are feeling.

I'm here for you when you need me.

Let's figure out what we can do about this together - whether it be your feelings, your loneliness, your anger, etc.

Never say:

You'll get over it.

It's not real love.

It's not that serious.

Forget about it.

Get on with your life.

Questions worth asking:

Bringing your boyfriend home for the first time? Here's what moms are looking for:

Does he treat you with respect or dismiss your thoughts as being silly or emotional?

Is he a gentleman? Does he open the door for you? Does he hold your hand, or does he treat you like a guy friend?

How does he talk about his family?

Are you true to your own dreams and take time for yourself? Or does he consume all of your time?

Is it all about him? Do you wait for his call, engage in his activities, and only go out with his friends?

How does he treat this family? Is he respectful? Does he put you in a situation where you have to decide who to love more?

Courtesy of Maryjorapini.com

Parents need to stay involved in order to moderate the risks of dating, including accidents, violence, sexual involvement or substance use, stresses Dr. Carl Pickhardt.

10 Rules for Safe Dating:

1) Parents having met the date is safer than not having met the date.

2) Group dating is safer than couple dating.

3) Friend dating is safer than stranger or blind dating.

4) Social dating is safer than serious or romantic dating.

5) Same age dating is safer than dating someone older or younger.

6) Early curfew dating is safer than later curfew dating.

7) Planned activity dating is safer than unstructured activity dating.

8) Chaperoned dating is safer than unchaperoned dating.

9) Parents available to be called is safer than parents unavailable to be called.

10) Substance-free dating is safer than substance-using dating.


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