Helping Your Teen Through Heartbreak

Published On: Apr 11 2012 01:41:20 PM EDT
OAKLAND COUNTY, Mich. -

If you have kids or know someone who has teen-aged kids, you've heard the line "Just wait until they hit their teens," specifically referring to the teen dating scene.

Even though we've all been there and survived, it's hard knowing what our kids will go through with broken hearts and disappointments.

Whether it’s "puppy love" or a long-term teenage relationship, parents want to be there for their teenaged sons or daughters.

I turned to "Talking Teenage" experts Barbara R. Greenberg, Ph.D. and Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder, Psy.D. to discuss ways parents can be a support system rather than an avoided hindrance when it comes to teenage heartbreak.

Barbara and Jennifer are clinical psychologists who specialize in the treatment of teens and their families.

I interviewed the experts and here is what we discussed:

Oakland County Moms: Parents want their kids to come to them when they are having troubles, including in their love life. What is your best advice for parents to follow in hopes of raising children who feel comfortable communicating and opening up to their parents?

Talking Teenage Editor Jennifer Powell-Lunder: Kids are more likely to come to their parents with issues or concerns when they feel that their parents will be attentive, supporting and caring.

While most parents want to believe that they have already sent this message about themselves to their kids, the reality is kids look to their parents for cues on what they can and cannot talk about.

So, for example, if every time your teen has tried to bring up a subject you are uncomfortable talking about, you have inadvertently shut them down by changing the subject or talking around it, you send the message that this may not be a “safe” topic for them to discuss with you.

It is also important to be mindful of your own behavior. As we all know, sometimes actions can speak louder than words. If for example you have a habit of making somewhat biting or judgmental comments about certain people engaged in certain behaviors while you are on the phone with a friend or, in front of your teen, your teen may believe they will be negatively judged if they have related concerns, issues, or even problems.

In addition, kids learn from experience. This is why it is so important for parents to be mindful of their reactions to what their kids may say to them. If you are taken off guard by something your kids bring to you and react without thinking, explain this calmly with them. They will not only respect you more, but will be more likely to approach you the next time.

If there are certain topics that are difficult for you to talk about start the conversation by letting your teen know and this may prevent your teen from misinterpreting your reaction toward the topic as disapproval of them, or toward what they are saying.

Oakland County Moms: We fear this happening, but know that stepping in can sometimes back-fire; what should parents do if they completely disagree with their child's choice of who to date?

Talking Teenage Editor Jennifer Powell-Lunder: Dating can be a tricky topic. Before you pass judgment on your teen’s choice of romantic partner, we suggest you think back to your own teenage crushes and dates.

If you are like most people you may be saying to yourself, “What was I thinking???” You then need to step back a moment and ask yourself, “What is it about this guy or gal that I don’t like?” If your answers seem somewhat shallow, (for example, you don’t like the way he/she dresses or he/she has tattoos, body piercings, a funky hair color or cut) make some effort to get to know the teen better, you maybe pleasantly surprised…or not.

If you still really don’t like the guy or gal as long as your concern is not related to safety, we recommend you let it go. After all, you’re not the one who has to date him or her. And please, do not tell your teen that you think their boyfriend or girlfriend is not “good enough” for them!

The teens we have talked to tell us this is a major insult. They report that they feel like their parents are telling them they have bad judgment, not something you want to hear when you are on the journey toward defining your identity.

If you have safety concerns but no real evidence to back your gut feeling, focus on a plan that serves to quell these feelings. For example, set strict rules about how/when and where your teen can see his/her significant other.

If you have legitimate safety concerns, (for example, you know the teen is engaging in high risk/and or dangerous behaviors), talk with your teen about your concerns. Your teen may disagree with your concerns, and even deny that what you are saying is true. It is important in these moments to remain calm, caring and firm, even in the face of your unhappy teen.

In our role as parents we sometimes have to deliver news that will upset our kids, it goes with the job description. You also need to have an idea of what you are going to ask of your teen before you speak with them, it goes with out saying that you must present as a unified front with any other adults who are responsible for parenting your teen (e.g. your spouse, ex-spouse, the teen’s stepparent, etc.).

Some options include: forbidding your teen to date this person all together, or setting up a plan in which you feel comfortable with the level of supervision being provided when your teen is with his/her significant other. If age is a concern, it certainly helps to remind your teen that in the eyes of the law, anyone over 18 is considered an adult, anyone under is a minor.

Oakland County Moms: What can we say or do to help our children when they are experiencing heartbreak? On the same note, what should we not say or do?

Talking Teenage Editor Jennifer Powell-Lunder: Even if you couldn’t stand the guy/girl your teen was dating and you wish you could throw a party to celebrate the break-up it goes without saying that at all cost avoid blurting out no matter what saying “I told you so,” at this particular moment is the wrong thing to do-gloat in private if you have to.

As far as what you should do. There is no general answer. It really depends on your teen.
You should validate what they are feeling. You can do this by telling them that you are so sorry they are upset and hurt. Another “no-no” do not share stories about your own teen heart break, at least not now.

Developmentally speaking, teens are egocentric by nature as such, they tend to believe that no one has ever thought or felt the way they do, especially not you.
Use what you do know about your teen. Comfort them. Whether it be a cup of tea or a pint of ice cream, offer what you think will help. Also ask them what you can do. Do they want to be left alone, do they want you to sit with them but not talk about the situation, and do they want to talk about the situation.

If they do want to talk, tread very carefully. This is not your opportunity to let your real thoughts and opinion about this romantic interest out. Remember, this is not about you; this is about your teen.

We also recommend that you avoid clichés such as “There are many more fish in the sea,” or “Time heals all wounds,” because right now your teen may feel like the ocean is empty and each second of heartbreak feels like an eternity!

Dr's Barbara R. Greenberg, & Jennifer A. Powell-Lunder are clinical psychologists specializing in work with teens and their parents.

About the author:

Lisa LaGrou is the founder of OaklandCountyMoms.com. She and her team work to present quality content to their readers. Lisa likes to provide information and options for families about a myriad of topics without preaching or condoning. If she experiences something, she want to share it. If she doesn't know about something, she tries to find information to share. She's delighted when people contact her with suggestions about content and resources. For more information on how to become a member of Oakland County Moms click HERE.