Coping With Teen Breakups

By Andy Leheny

Oh, Young love…

Researchers believe teen dating relationships are primarily based on infatuation. But regardless if the impetus is true love or infatuation, when your son or daughter copes with the end of a dating relationship it can be an emotional experience in which parental guidance can play a significant, helpful role. This is especially true when the teen is also impacted by a disability.

When teen breakups occur, especially if near our society’s romantic focus on Valentine’s Day, one specific question is asked by one or both of the young couple: “Why did this happen to me?” As parents, we can offer counsel to our own teenage son or daughter that breakups of teen dating relationships is relatively common.

LiveScience.com shares details of a joint study between the United States and Australia of 80 teen couples over a period of four years.  By the end of the study, only nine of the original 80 couples were still dating. As parents know, this is a fact you can truthfully share with your teen son or daughter: that what he or she is going through is a common, but possibly stressful, experience. Stress to your teen your desire that they be open to you regarding what they are emotionally experiencing.

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In such situations, mental health professionals recommend parents encourage their teen to focus on healthy living. For example, succumbing to an ice cream or potato chip binge will do little to actually benefit one’s emotions following a romantic breakup. However, eating healthily and getting appropriate sleep will more likely provide more needed support in coping with an emotional challenge.

Mary Beth Burkley is a guidance counselor at Belle Vernon Area High School in Pennsylvania, and has considerable experience counseling teens on a variety of issues, including romantic breakups. She also has extensive experience in developing individual education plans for teens affected by a disability.

Following a teen breakup, Ms. Burkley suggests one helpful response is getting involved with clubs and organizations both in school, and in the community. “I would tell this to any teen (following a breakup),” said Ms. Burkley. . However, this could be more for difficult for a student with a disability. “For such a student, parental involvement is essential,” she said. “Parents may have to more involved with helping the student make these connections.”

TeensHealth.org recommends that following a breakup, a renewed focus on your teen’s existing interests — especially those which strengthen his or her self-esteem — can be especially helpful.

Our now 18-year-old son, affected by Spina Bifida, enjoys collecting science fiction memorabilia. When he’s feeling “down” for any reason, we know a short drive to his favorite collectible store always lifts his spirits.

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Each teen has his or her unique interests.  If your son or daughter wishes to become an actor or actress, encouraging them to spend an afternoon watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster, or taking in a play at your local community theater, can be a great step towards emotional healing.

As TeensHealth.org also suggests, encouraging your teen to remain busy can redirect thoughts from the prior relationship to other concerns, such as beginning a new hobby.   It is equally important to continue one’s regular activities, such as spending time with friends, or participating in church youth group meetings.

If as parents we discover our teen dwelling too much on the prior relationship, unable to get past the “why” of the breakup, it’s important we remind our teen about those unique qualities and skills that which make them a terrific individual. We should remind our teen he or she will always have our love, and that, though it may be difficult to believe at the moment, romantic love will enter their lives sooner than expected.

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