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It's All About the Kids: a column by Dr. Janet McPeek

Helping teens cope with broken relationships

November 27, 2013 - It's that time of year when teen dating blossoms. School is back in full swing, homecoming has come and gone, and the holidays are approaching. Although some relationships remain intact, others fall apart. Parents can be instrumental in helping teens maneuver the ups and downs of dating relationships.

It's inevitable that teenage relationships will end up as teenage breakups. That's a normal part of growing up. But the fallout can be tough on some teens. It can be one of the most emotional times in a young person's life. While some kids handle a breakup by moving on, others are absolutely devastated. Often, rumors start to spread, which leads to further embarrassment and a lack of self-confidence in the teen who was on the receiving end of the breakup.

It is natural from a developmental standpoint for teenagers to be involved in relationships. They should learn how to form relationships, but they also must learn how to work through a breakup when it occurs.

That's an important part of being in a relationship. The teen years are a time when you learn what you are looking for in a life partner, and it is normal not to find that person at this young age.

So, how do you help your teen cope with the breakup and move on, especially when it may mean the loss of a new group of friends as well? Often, when a teen's relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend ends, so does their friendship with the other person's buddies. And, to make matters even more difficult, all of the teens may still see each other every day at school.

The first thing a parent can do is refrain from saying, "I know how you feel" or "When I was your age." That's the last thing your teenager wants to hear. To them, breaking up is the worst thing that has ever happened and no one can know how it feels. Instead, ask your teen to tell you how he or she feels. Listen to them, but don't try to fix things. Just offer your support and reassurance that things will get better.

Make sure that your teen keeps busy and maintains as many normal activities as possible, including going to school every day. Encourage him or her to reconnect with other friends that they lost touch with when they started dating and hanging out with another group of kids. If you become concerned about your teen's behavior after a relationship ends, talk to another parent or school professional. And, look for signs that indicate your child may benefit from talking with a professional. For example, if he or she is feeling hopeless about the future or not eating and sleeping.

There are several lessons that can be learned from this experience. First, kids will see that they shouldn't cut off their other friends and activities at the expense of being exclusive with one person. Secondly, next time your teen may be the one breaking off a relationship, and he or she can better learn from this situation about how to end the relationship in a way that is less hurtful. And finally, kids should realize that some things happen that they cannot change, and the grownup thing to do is to accept it and move forward.

A relationship breakup doesn't mean there is anything wrong with either teen; it's just two young people who were dating and it simply didn't work out.

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