by Stephanie Partridge
Parenting a teen is no easy matter, especially during their first breakup. The moment I heard my daughter's voice on the other side of my bedroom door, I knew something was wrong. She knocked, waking me. I looked at the clock: 12 am. “Mom,” She said, “I need to talk to you.” Her voice was strained, tight. I could tell that she was struggling to keep it together. Something was wrong. I was out of bed in a heartbeat.
“What's up?” I asked as I opened the door. Her face did not reveal much, but I could see she was upset. Her trembling hand matched her trembling voice as she thrust a cell phone at me.
“Look.” She said.
It took me a moment to process what I was seeing, a text from someone to someone asking for nude photos and promising nude photos in return. My first reaction was that she had encountered some pervert somewhere and he was soliciting her. My mind began forming a plan of action. I wanted to throttle the creep, then it hit me. I KNEW this number, the sender of the text message. I also realized that this was not her phone, but her friend's cell. The picture slowly came into focus. My daughter's boyfriend had sent this text to her friend! I felt the small hairs on the back of my neck bristle as the realization hit me. The boy was a player and my daughter was heartbroken.
What had started out as a joke, two teenage girls sending a random message to my daughter's boyfriend had turned into major drama. A joke had turned into a tragedy. He had responded in a way that neither girl expected. At that midnight hour, the boyfriend had realized his blunder and come over to our house, only to be confronted by my son (also my daughter's best friend and strongest ally) who was not too happy that his sister was hurt by this guy.
Major drama in our house that night.
In all, it came out that he was “talking” to lots of girls and that he had been cheating on my daughter from the beginning. As we all stood in my kitchen that Thursday night (the next day was a holiday for the kids, not for me) my daughter showed incredible strength and wisdom as she calmly confronted the boy and told him she wanted nothing to do with him ever again. However, although she was the one to break it off, she had still been betrayed. I wanted so badly to take those hurt feelings away from her, to protect her. But life just doesn't work that way.
Broken hearts are a part of growing up and the teen years tend to be particularly prone to them. As parents, we watch our children struggle with the pain of growing up, the heartache of breakups and betrayals, and we wish that we could offer our children a magical pill that would rid them of heartbreak forever. But there is no such pill and even if there was, we can't realistically shield our children from the hurts of the world. There is growth in pain and much like the steel of the sword becoming forged in the fire, we become stronger, smarter and wiser when we are faced with difficult times. To shield our children from this valuable and necessary process would be a disservice to them.
So, if we can't or shouldn't protect and shield our children from heartache, what can we do? Well, this is actually a time when your child needs not only a parent, but a friend as well. You can help to soothe the hurt, but also guide them through the growth process, help them learn the lessons that lie within. This is a delicate process, but not only will it help your child recover quicker, it will also draw them closer to you, improving your relationship with them.
Remember how it feels.
Think about when you were a teen and had your heart broken. At the time you felt as if your world was ending. Remember that time, the feelings that you had, the emptiness, frustration and hopelessness. Recall the physical reactions as well as your emotional ones. This will put you in the right place to relate to your child. Empathy is a powerful tool when you are reaching out to help your child.
Recognize that teens deal with pain in different ways.
Your teen may not deal with the pain in the same way that you deal with pain, or even the same way that their siblings deal with it. They may isolate themselves and cry, or they may act as if nothing is wrong and try to ignore it. It is not your place to dictate to them the “right” way to handle grief and pain. You can not try to mold them into the image you feel comfortable handling, you must meet them on their terms. By doing so, you are sending them the message that you seem them as an individual, you respect them and you accept them for who they are.
NEVER say “I Told you So.”
As a parent, you may be inclined to rant about the perpetrator of the pain, the heartbreaker. You may feel like saying, “I TOLD you that he was not good!” or “I warned you that she was going to do this!” These types of statements are not at all productive and will only serve to make your teen feel more like a failure while driving them further away from you.
Acknowledge that you may not be the hero this time.
As a parent, you instinctively want to take away the pain, to be the hero. However, you can't always be the hero in your teen's life. It is important that at this time you are there for you teen, but don't force your way in. Keep yourself available and accessible, talking to your teen and, more importantly, listening, but don't be get your feelings hurt when they reach out to their peers instead of you.
Encourage them to reach out for support. Friends are great for easing the pain of heartbreak. Encourage your child to establish a good support system and maintain it, even while in a relationship. Many people, both adults and teens, will neglect their friendships when in a relationship. This is a big mistake because we all need both friend relationships and romantic ones. Establishing this in your child early on will help them build and maintain a solid support system that extends beyond the family unit. Then, when heartbreak happens, you can encourage them to reach out into that support system and begin the healing process.
Listen without judgment.
Sometimes is it best to just shut up and listen. This is not the time to be critical or to point out all the mistakes that you teen made. This is not the time to tell you teen that they should have never gone out with the person. It isn't even really the time to tell your teen that the pain will pass and they will feel better. These types of statements do not help at this time. Instead, ask questions, particularly those that encourage your teen to probe deeper into introspection. Ask questions like, “How do you think you can avoid this next time?” If they say there won't be a next time, just say OK. Don't argue or patronize or cajole. Just move on. Ask them what they learned, but don't judge the answers. Just let them talk, regardless of how unrealistic the lessons seem. The true lessons are being learned and absorbed, don't worry.
Know when it is time to get help.
Heartbreak is a part of life. You can't get around it, can't avoid it. We all have had our hearts broken, and we all got over it. However, if your teen seems particularly depressed and those feelings last for more than two weeks, it may be time to seek professional help. If you note a marked change in appetite, sleeping habits, performance at school, a disinterest in activities that they normally find enjoyable or a withdrawal from their friends, then you may need to intervene. A few days of this behavior, or even a week, is fairly normal, but if it is prolonged (more than two weeks) or is accompanied by thoughts of suicide or a preoccupation with death, you need to step in and get them help.
You are a parent, but you are only human. You don't always have all the answers and you can't always cure all the hurts. And you know what? It's OK.
Stephanie Partridge is a freelance writer and photographer as well as a FOIA analyst for a federal agency in Washington, D.C. She is a single mom to Jeffery, 19; Micah Elizabeth, 17 and Benjamin, 15. She is also the author of the ebook, “Diet is a Dirty Word.”