This is the kind of thing that knocks the wind out of all of us. Your teen finally found someone that they connect with, that really GETS them. Who they can be their whole complete self with. You see the shine in their eyes, the unending, seemingly unchangeable happiness they feel at being seen as the beautiful, special person they are. You wonder how it’s going to unfold…you, who have been through nothing-will-ever-go-wrong-again bliss only to be plunged into heartbreak. And …then… it ends.
The days, weeks, and months after a breakup can be confusing, sad, and painful. Most of us have feelings of depression when we lose something or someone meaningful and that has brought us hope. It’s natural to feel sad, cry, have low energy and motivation, a poor appetite or feel irritable. AND- a more serious or ongoing depression can set in for teens when they’re trying to move on and let go of a person they once- or still -care for.
When your teen goes through a breakup it can be hard to see them in pain and you may be confused about the best way to help them through it. I’m frequently speaking to teens whose parents either give them too much space or are constantly hovering.
Here are some tips for telling the difference between the natural and expectable feelings of depression due to the sudden loss of a romantic relationship and something more serious, like a clinical depression.
Give your teen space. BUT not too much space!
Lead with an affirmation or supportive thought, like:
- “I want you to know I’ve been thinking about you today and how you are feeling.”
- “This must be pretty rough for you. Do you need anything from me?”
- “It seems like today was a little bit better. I’m happy for you.”
Check in with them, but try a couple of times a week (3-4 times) instead of a couple of times a day. Each time you check in ask a different question. Try asking questions that are open ended, as they require more thought and words to answer. Closed ended questions only require a simple yes or no.
- “Have you been feeling (sad, anxious, angry, disappointed) about the breakup?”
- “How is school?”
- “What do you need right now?”
- “Which one of your friends has been helpful for you lately?”
- “How’s life?”
- “How did this week go for you?”
- “How are you holding up?”
Remember the last time something especially heartbreaking happened to you? Think about what was the most comforting thing someone said or did. Even if parents have big, mixed feelings about their kid dating, we can certainly relate to how bad it feels to lose something or someone we loved.
- constantly (multiple times a day) phone, text, email, and ask in person how your teen is doing.
- say “I know you’re sad right now but I think it’s for the best.”
If the relationship your teen was in was relatively healthy and age appropriate, it means they were very strongly invested in someone and something of their choosing, and they were working extremely hard to make it successful. When it falls apart, the lessons to be learned from this are theirs and theirs alone; no amount of commiseration or advice from a parent is helpful at this point.
Let your teenager know you’re available to talk. Say something like, “I know breakups can sometimes be difficult, I’m here if you ever want to talk about it” or “I’m here if you need to chat about the breakup”.
Ignore warning signs. Breakups are very challenging for everyone (meaning: Everyone. Even people who have abundant coping skills and resources.), and sometimes that can have a serious impact on your teen. Memorize these warning signs and give them that extra support (counseling) if you notice they are not coping well:
- extreme weight gain or loss
- sleep problems
- rapid, drastic changes in personality
- sudden change in friends
- skipping school often
- falling grades
- talk or even jokes about suicide
- signs of tobacco, alcohol, or drug use
- run-ins with the law
Restoring Relationships is here for you so you don’t have to figure this stuff out on your own. I’m parenting right alongside you; I get it and I get YOU. Reach out if you need to!