Whether it was your teen’s first true love or a summer fling, the end of a relationship can be emotionally wrenching for a teenager just learning about heartbreak. One minute, they’re flying high on the wings of love, and the next, they’ve crashed into a sea of heartache.
Fortunately, you can use a breakup as an opportunity to teach your teen how to deal with pain, rejection, disappointment, and other emotions that often accompany the end of a relationship. Of course, you also want to avoid the things that could make your teen feel even worse.
Patience is key. The biggest lesson to pass on to your teen is that heartache takes time to heal, but with time, it will.
1. Validate Your Teen’s Emotions
Resist the urge to minimize your child’s emotions; just because you didn’t think the relationship was that important or would last forever doesn’t mean that your teenager didn’t feel strongly about their former significant other. While it’s unlikely that they would have lived happily ever after, your teen perhaps thought that they would. Regardless, the pain is real and significant to your teen.
Validate your teen’s feelings by saying, “I know this is hard,” or “I know it’s sad when a relationship comes to an end.” Avoid saying things like, “this isn’t really a big deal,” or “high school relationships don’t usually work out anyway.” These types of comments, which are meant to minimize grief or rationalize away pain, may make your teen feel alone, trivialized, and misunderstood.
You might think that gender determines how big your teen’s heartache will be, but resist making these assumptions. Don’t let stereotypes dictate how your child can or should express emotions.
Remember, big emotions and feeling crushed by heartache are very common for teens.
Give your child the space to feel however they feel. Expect that your child will need you more than usual during this difficult transition, so make yourself available whenever possible.
2. Support Your Teen’s Decision
If your teen decided to initiate the breakup, that doesn’t mean they won’t be upset about it. Sometimes the one who chose to end the relationship ends up the saddest. However the breakup happened, stand behind your child.
Don’t try to talk them out of the breakup if you happened to like their significant other. And don’t suggest they made the wrong choice. This is your teen’s relationship, so even if you think it was a bad idea to end it, let that be your teen’s choice. You can, however, talk through their feelings with them and help them understand why they ended the relationship.
Don’t worry about saying “the right thing.” Just listen and echo their feelings so they know you hear them, understand, and are in their corner.
3. Find a Middle Ground
Your first reaction might be to shower your child with well-meaning, placating statements, such as “you can do better” or “they weren’t right for you anyway.” You’ll probably want to tell them that they’re too young to be so seriously involved, or fall back on the ultimate relationship cliché: “There are plenty of fish in the sea.” But these sentiments are generally unhelpful.
Saying “I told you so” about a partner you had warned them against is not helpful or supportive, either. Criticizing your teen’s ex will likely just make them feel worse. And they’re likely to be defensive and less interested in confiding in you.
As an adult, you have the perspective to know that life goes on after a relationship ends. Your teen doesn’t have the benefit of that experience or hindsight—nor is that knowledge particularly helpful in easing their pain.
Instead, inspire hope for the future so they’ll know they won’t feel this way forever. At the same time, don’t encourage them to escape their uncomfortable emotions. The grieving process is what will help them heal.
4. Be a Good Listener
Even better than saying anything is letting your teen talk without interjecting your opinions or analysis. Your teen does not need you to take over, tell them how they should feel, or share what you would have done or felt if you were in their shoes.
They need time and a safe space to vent their frustration, confusion, hurt, and any other emotions they experience without having anyone clouding or second-guessing their thoughts. They don’t need you to filter their feelings or put them in perspective—time will do that on its own.
Encourage them to open up to you, but know that it’s normal if a teen isn’t willing to share every detail about their love life with their parents. Encourage them to talk with friends or those with whom they feel most comfortable.
Providing a non-judgmental listening ear and gentle guidance are the best gifts you can give your heartbroken teen.
5. Talk About Technology
In the age of social media, some teens rush to update their relationship status and share details about their lives online. Have a conversation with your teen about taking a technology time-out in the days (or maybe weeks) after the breakup, to avoid posting any updates they’ll regret—or any online backlash or shaming.
In particular, warn them about badmouthing exes, posting private details of the breakup, or sharing anything personal that was learned during the relationship. Teens often lack the maturity to understand how to respectfully handle a breakup. They may need you to guide them in making the right decisions regarding public information about the relationship (and its demise).
6. Provide a Little Distraction
There’s nothing like creating a distraction to give your child a break from thinking about their breakup. Take them out for a day on the town. You could see a movie, do some shopping, or go to a baseball game. Go out for their favorite dinner or make a special dessert together.
Think about your teen’s favorite activities and then schedule them throughout the day. Or work on a project together like planting a garden, making a scrapbook, experimenting with art supplies, or redecorating their bedroom. Not only does activity prevent wallowing and get your teen away from social media, but it also reminds them that life is pretty great, even without a boyfriend or girlfriend.
7. Get Back to Routine
You might need to make a few alterations to your plans, like choosing an action movie rather than a romantic comedy for movie night, but it’s generally a good idea to keep life as normal as possible.
While still being sensitive to your teen’s feelings, aim to treat them as normally as possible. Using kid gloves for too long or continually bringing it up could just serve as an unwelcome reminder of their heartbreak.
8. Be Prepared for the Roller Coaster
After the first few days of crying, silence, angry breakup music and/or whatever heartache looks like for your child, things should calm down—until your teen has a bad day again. Your teen will probably go through phases of feeling OK about the end of the relationship to once again being devastated about it.
This roller coaster of emotion is normal. Don’t be surprised if they go through a few of these phases before their mood levels out for good. The important thing for you and your child to understand is that breakups (and these highs and lows of emotion) are a normal part of life.
9. Seek Help When Necessary
You might not always be the best person to help your teen deal with a bad breakup. Sometimes, it can help to get a professional involved, particularly if your teen has been struggling for more than a few weeks or is showing signs that this breakup is affecting them more than normal.
If you notice signs of depression, eating problems, or sleeping too much or too little, it might be time to seek additional help. Contact their pediatrician for a referral to a mental health professional who deals specifically in adolescent therapy and make an appointment for your teen.
10. Keep the Focus on Your Teen
During this process, remember to keep one thing in mind: It’s not your breakup. While you might have adored your teen’s former boyfriend or girlfriend (or perhaps you despised them), try to keep your feelings out of this as much as possible.
Teen love is a rocky road, and you don’t want to be caught in a tricky spot if the two reconcile down the path. Plus, you don’t want your child to feel burdened about having to help you deal with your feelings as well as their own.
Your focus should be on helping your child cope and learn from this experience. Most likely they’ll emerge stronger, more confident, and more mature. For now, remind them how smart, kind, loved, and wonderful they are. Tell them you love them.
A Word From Verywell
Just as teen love can be wonderfully thrilling, teen heartache can cut deeply. Support your child through this difficult time with an abundance of love, patience, and compassion.
Know that you don’t need to rescue them from their feelings. In fact, experiencing these prickly emotions is a vital part of the healing process. Being there for your teen is as simple as listening with love and giving them the space to heal.