Hi Dr. G.,
My beautiful 16-year-old daughter's boyfriend of one year broke up with her 2 1/2 weeks ago. She's having a very hard time with unanswered questions, seeing him at school, adapting to life without him and so forth. They're both juniors. He is a terrific kid, making it that much more difficult. I know you've written on how teens can survive a break up/first love, but can you help me by giving me some pointers about how to best help my daughter? It is very hard to watch her struggle. I wish that I could absorb her pain. Please help me.
A Concerned Mom
Dear Concerned Mom,
It's so difficult to watch our kids when they are unhappy or experiencing any kind of emotional distress, isn't it? That is certainly one of the trickiest aspects of being a parent. The good news is that there are several bits of advice that I can offer you so that you can get through this period with your daughter most effectively. Her pain is your pain. I know that feeling.
Here are some ideas about how you can best help your daughter:
1. Try to focus on letting your daughter vent without focusing on saying the right thing to her. It is extremely therapeutic for your daughter to talk and feel heard at this point. Advice about future relationships can be a focus for later. Tuck the advice in your back pocket. You will get a chance to reach in there later.
2. Help your daughter return to the "new normal" of her life by encouraging her to spend time with friends and get involved in other activities so that she is not spending the majority of her time thinking about the ex.
3. You may want to gently ( and I want to emphasize gently here) suggest to your daughter that she unfriend the ex-boyfriend on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat so that she doesn't drive herself crazy looking at his pictures and postings. I know from all of the teens that I work with that nothing other than unhealthy obsessing comes out of speculating about who the new girl standing next to the ex on electronic technology is. And, we certainly don't want our kids to make up scenarios about their exes based on posts.
4. Keep in mind that it is your job to love and support your daughter but not necessarily to fix everything. And, it's good that you can't fix everything. I know that that statement seems counter-intuitive but it is important that your kids learn that they can get over break-ups on their own. For your daughter this may be her first break-up but she is likely to experience more break-ups during her life. It is important that she learn to flex her relationship muscles.
5. Think about the break-up as a learning opportunity for your daughter. She will learn about empathy, dealing with disappointment and and the ups and downs of life from her break-up.
Sometimes our kids become very depressed after a break-up and can't seem to move on. They may become lethargic and isolative. If this happens then consider getting your daughter into therapy. Otherwise give her a bit of time to return to her usual mood. Good luck.