Today’s breakups are plugged in
Taxes and romantic bust-ups. It’s April, the “cruelest month.”
Based on unimpeachable data like miserable status announcements and no-comment relationship switches on Facebook — or in the hallway between classes — smart statisticians and even smarter high school students have confirmed that partnerships tend to explode between Thanksgiving and Christmas and then early in the new year. Valentine’s Day can be bad. Spring break is the worst.
if you’re a parent, you have a delicate dance to do when your teenager gets dumped, or even did the dumping. Teens don’t have a ton of experience or perspective and may be enduring what seems like awesomely epic trauma — because it is. This is totally new territory. Nobody ever suffered like this before, Mom and Dad!
Does it help to recall the searing rock-n-roll poetry of our own peer, Tom Petty? “There’s someone I used to see, but she don’t give a damn for me. … You don’t know how it feels to be me.”
That’s your kid’s truth now. Quit rolling that inner eye. Instead, check out these pointers on patiently parenting a brokenhearted kid, taken from a survey of the literature out there and sprinkled with a little personal observation.
- Don’t say, “Oh you’ll get over it. You’re young.” (Way to minimize, Mom and Dad!)
- Try instead, “You feel terrible now for a good reason. But I seriously doubt you’ll always feel this way. Meanwhile, take care of yourself. Cut yourself some slack.”
- Offer to listen, but give your kid space, too. Don’t insist.
- Don’t pile on the ex with criticisms or judgments. “Thank goodness. I never liked that jerk” is doubling the complications and pain, not reducing them.
- Help solve practical problems. How can we avoid the ex? What do we say if we see them in school?
- Encourage other friendships and outings, hobbies and exercise, and an overall change of scene and mindset.
- Share your own early breakup story — with humor and sympathy. “Boy, I remember how awful it was for me when …”
As rotten as they are, early breakups actually build up the strength and resilience that’s going to carry teenagers through future difficulties. This is the process of protective but joyless skin-thickening we all have to endure, one way or another. This is the messy process of learning who we are and whom we like, what works and what doesn’t.
The popular literature tends to break out teen girls’ and teen boys’ behaviors in ways that I frankly find stereotypical at best and nonsense at worst. Let’s just acknowledge that individual reactions vary. Some kids may look to friends and family for consolation and comfort via a lot of talking and sharing; others may withdraw and stew and even punch walls. Or worse.
But OK, it’s also true: boys still aren’t taught to probe their own feelings much and may have little practice with anything but anger, while girls may already have done lots of friendship drama and be accustomed to friends whose stock rises and falls, rises and falls.
Be on the lookout for red flags. Is your kid full of self-blame and low self-esteem? Have sleep, schoolwork, eating, other activities and relationships not bounced back after what seems like a reasonable mourning period? Are you getting worried about risky reactive behaviors? That’s when it may be time to express serious concern and even seek outside help.
‘24-hour news cycle’
“Talking and sharing” really means texting. Electronics and social media are a central part of growing up now. Today’s teenagers have never known anything but a world where breaking up isn’t just personal business — it’s a breaking headline in the 24-hour news cycle.
Breaking up via the Internet should be out of the question, of course. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen all the time. Just don’t expect messages of sorrow or fury or sarcasm or sweetness to stay private. Know how many humiliating “breakup text” collection websites there are out there? Heard of “revenge porn”?
This is where parenting wisdom starts failing me. Urging one’s kid to keep private things private doesn’t seem to fly anymore. Neither does avoiding the ex — and all the ensuing gossip — on social media. Who wouldn’t succumb to the temptation to keep peeking at your ex’s pages?
It used to be easier to break up and move on without constantly reopening wounds. Today you’ve got to rely on lots of personal backbone.
It’s nice to chant that you should and must remain friends. But if the relationship was at all intense or lasting, that’s going to prove complicated and difficult. Potentially rebuilt friendship or no, a definite cooling-off, no-contact period is a wise and clarifying idea.
Because, the point of this difficult passage is building a stronger, truer, more self-aware young adult — the one somebody new is going to love. When you’re good and ready, that is.
Try telling your kid that. When she or he is good and ready, that is.