Tweens Teens & Twenties

Helping Teens Through Relationship Breakups: Tips for Parents

Tanni Haas, Ph.D.

Teen relationships can be fickle: one day they can’t get enough of each other; the next day the exact opposite is the case. It’s hard for teens when a loved one disappears from their lives. How can parents help their teens through relationship breakups? Here’s what the experts suggest:

Make Yourself Available

The first and most important thing is to be there for your teens, to give them “the space to feel however they feel,” as Amy Morin of Understood.org, an education think tank, puts it. She says that your teens will likely need you much more than usual during this difficult transition, so make yourself available whenever possible.

Be Extra Loving

Be extra loving to your teens; they need it. Social worker Sarah Saxbe suggests that parents do small, loving gestures like bringing them a beloved stuffed animal from their childhood, a treat, or take-out food from their favorite restaurant. “Small pleasures help ease suffering during the most painful times,” says Ms. Morin, adding that parents should remind their teens “how smart, kind, loved, and wonderful they are.” 

When they’re ready to talk, listen to them instead of offering an opinion or advice.

Listen to Them

When they’re ready to talk, listen to them instead of offering an opinion or advice. Morin says, teens “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.” Instead of searching for the right thing to say, focus on keeping the conversation going by repeating back to them their feelings or, as teen social worker Tasha Rube puts it, “ask for clarification instead of offering insight.” Child psychologist Dr. Michelle DeRasmus suggests saying things like “’I know you’re really hurting right now.’” or “‘It sounds like you’re dealing with a lot of different emotions.’” 

If They Don’t Want To Talk …

If your teens don’t feel like talking about the breakup, be supportive in other ways. Dr. DeRasmus suggests doing relaxing things together like watching movies or going for walks. “Even if teens don’t want to talk, the presence of a parent can be comforting. Spend lots of time with them, and give them your undivided attention,” she says.

Tell Them to Be Patient

The pain of a breakup doesn’t disappear right away, so tell you teens to be patient but also give them hope for the future. “The biggest lesson to pass on to your teen,” Ms. Morin says, “is that heartache takes time to heal, but with time, it will.”  Ms. Rube suggests saying things like: ‘I know it hurts a lot right now, but remember that’s not forever.’”

Encourage your teen to take a “technology time-out” immediately after the breakup to avoid posting anything he or she will regret later.

Take A Technology Time-Out

A lot of teens’ social lives happen online, and dating and romance is no exception. Many teens rush online to update their relationship status from “in a relationship” to “single” when they go through a breakup, and often share intimate details about their former relationship. Ms. Morin suggests that parents should encourage their teens to take a “technology time-out” immediately after the breakup to avoid posting anything they’ll regret later. She especially warns teens against badmouthing their exes or sharing any private details of the breakup. Clinical psychologist Dr. Margaret Greenberg adds that parents should advise their teens to cut off all social media contact with the exes. “It’s impossible to get over someone,” Dr. Greenberg notes, ”if you’re constantly checking their status and hence making their daily lives a very significant part of your daily life.”

Provide Fun Distractions

You can also support your teens by providing fun distractions. This could be anything from going shopping, watching a ball game, gardening, or redecorating their room. Doing fun stuff together reminds them, as Ms. Morin puts it, that “life is pretty great, even without a boyfriend or girlfriend.” But also get them back into a happy and productive daily routine. “Fun days out can distract,” says Ms. Morin, “but so can homework, chores, family outings, and sports practices.” Try to keep them as active as possible whether through school clubs, hobbies, or sports. Encourage them to take care of themselves physically by eating well, exercising, and getting enough sleep. “Staying busy,” Ms. Rube says, “will help prevent [them] from having obsessive thoughts about the relationship and help show [them] that life goes on.” 

Talk About Your Own Relationships

Finally, talk about your own past relationships as a way of helping them put their relationship into perspective. Ms. Rube says that doing that will help them see breakups as normal and “will increase the sense of intimacy between you and your teenager.”

Tanni Haas, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Department of Communication Arts, Sciences and Disorders at the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.

Editor’s Note: This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and does not constitute medical or other professional advice.

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