Behaviour & Emotions

How to talk about: Your teen’s first heartbreak


So your teenager is in a relationship, and it’s as serious as it gets at age sixteen. Recently, you’ve noticed that your young person is angry at everyone (including the cat). They’ve changed their lock screen photo – it used to be Dave. Dave has been axed from her screen forever. In place of Dave’s baby face is a quote, which reads, “Men are like trees, they take forever to grow up.”

Your parent antennas go up. You put the cat thing, the quote thing, and the fact that it’s been almost two months since the relationship started together. The only logical conclusion to come to is that the relationship has ended. Stupid Dave.

Here’s what not to do

  • Write a card that explains that there are plenty of other fish in the sea.
  • Write a card that explains that there are actually no other fish in the sea.
  • Write any sort of card about fish and the proportional amount of them to the sea.
  • Change their ringtone to “I will survive” and ring them throughout the day to lift their spirits.
  • Hand them ballet shoes and say, “Don’t tell me how you feel. Show me.”

So, now that's clear – how can you helpfully talk to your child about all of the emotions that going through a break up can invoke?

Let them know that you are there for them

Here are some ways you can say this –

  • “If you need to talk, I can listen.”
  • “You can talk to me about anything.”
  • “Even if you feel bad about something that you’ve said or done, you can tell me.”
  • “I got dumped heaps of times so I know how it feels.”
  • “Want me to get a tub of ice cream and some spoons?”

Acknowledge their feelings

It can make all the difference to know someone gets what’s going on with you, especially when you’re feeling things you’ve never felt before. Chances are, your child won’t have the words right away to describe how they feel. They just know Taylor Swift lyrics make a lot more sense now.

If they do string together a couple of sentences about it, and you’re ever tempted to say, “You don’t need to feel like that.” Swap it out for a, “Mmmm” (or any other type of empathetic sigh). Ask how they feel, acknowledge it as a valid feeling, and give them space to take the lead from there.

Let them talk

When they are finally ready to let the floodgates open, let that water flow freely. Let them explain how Dave messaged Sarah about Chloe, but she screenshotted it and showed Chloe, who then unfriended Dave, and then he made a group chat without Sarah. It might seem trivial and hard to follow but the aim here is to let them talk it out with you. You may find that they aren’t heartbroken once they work their way through what’s happened.

Listen to understand, not just to respond.

You definitely don’t need to rush in with your adult perspective on their break up. It’s likely your child already knows that the pain isn’t going to last forever. They probably already know that they are a strong independent teenager who don’t need no one. Their friend Charlie has already sent them numerous encouraging gifs to that effect. The key here is this – listen to understand, not just to respond.

What teens often need, is simply to be listened to, and listened to well. You might have a myriad of advice to give your kid about break ups, but the way that the advice will be most listened to is if it asked for. If you want them to ask for your perspective, you have to listen to their perspective first.

Christian Gallen

Christian Gallen

Christian has spoken to over 100,000 young people nationwide during his long career as a youth communicator and presenter. His passion is seeing young people make great choices and thrive, both online and offline.

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