Aleteia

How to help your teen cope with heartbreak

TEENAGER
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As parents we can come alongside our children and be part of mending their broken hearts.

First love can spring on us as suddenly as a tornado and feelings can spin out of control. At first, a teen might be surprised by the intensity of their emotions, which is followed by a certitude that he has found true love with a capital L. But the day that the “love of his life” leaves him (or her), tragedy strikes, and anyone who doubts the intensity of the suffering will be pitilessly rejected. How can you help your child go through this most difficult time in his life?

Mistakes to avoid

First you must understand that this is a real and profound experience for your teen. Responses such as “There are plenty more fish in the sea” and “You’ll be fine, you’ll see” do nothing to heal this very real wound. As to sarcasm or guilt-inducing words like “You’re too young to know what real love is,” “I warned you, you wanted to play grown-up and got ditched …” — those will only aggravate the situation.

The fundamental role of parents in this situation consists in allowing the child to express the bitter disappointment, the broken hopes, the depression, the feelings of anger, and the lack of self-esteem experienced by someone who feels unloved and rejected.

Instead of leaving your child brooding, propose that he get out, watch a movie with you (or others), or turn to other distractions that will let him take his mind off his pain, even if initially he will hear none of it. When the time and the mood are right, you might also suggest ideas that he can think about, such as: “Did you know that we could fall in love more than once, and more intensely than the first time? Somewhere out there is the right person who will love you back. If someone doesn’t love you back it’s not because you are not awesome.”

Look out for signs of depression 

Your child needs to mourn the love he lost, but as long as he lives in hope of its return, there is no way of overcoming it. You have to help him to let go. It is equally important to see to it that your child finds a kind ear and a sympathetic heart. 

Why not propose that he help someone even less fortunate (while being careful that so much hardship does not overwhelm him)? And if despair settles in, if he shows signs of depression or talks of suicide, you should never take it lightly — seek professional help

Encouraging transformation

Invite your child to analyze his experience: “Do you know that what you’ve just experienced could be extremely enriching? You have just learned that love can be a source of great joy and a cause of great suffering, so you can see how important it is to never let any one play with your heart and never play with theirs, especially when you both are not old enough to master the sentiments. You might also want to ask yourself a few questions that might help you later on: ‘Why didn’t it work out? Was it because I was too possessive, too naive? Was it because I put too much pressure on the other person?’ (Love can only bloom when it is free.)”

You might also ask your child to try to make a mental portrait of a person that he will fall in love with one day. This heartbreak could become a wonderful occasion for growth.

Regardless, in order to overcome the sense of emptiness left by the loss of love that the young person feels, what counts the most is a warm, loving, and understanding family environment. Surrounded by an attitude of gentle tenderness and respect without a trace of intrusiveness, the child will discover what real love is. This love is similar to the divine love that accepts to suffer for the good of the others, without ever making them suffer. 

Denis Sonet

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