As parents, we need to fight against the illusion that everything is always fine with our teenagers. Teens often hide their pain behind the “Fine” sign — which is another way of saying “Keep out of my life.”
Parents can have difficulty believing their teenager is undergoing some of the most painful experiences they’ll have in life, while that teenager lives in their house, eats their food, and sleeps under their roof. How can pain be happening in a place with Internet access, food on the table, and clothes in the closet?
Here are some tips for dealing with a teenager that has a broken heart:
Pay Attention – Parents can have difficulty realizing their teenager has an emotional need. What parents must pay attention to is when their teenager’s behavior changes.
- Your kid who’s never been much of a talker emotionally vanishes for days or weeks.
- Your kid who’s a drama queen about everything flatlines emotionally for an extended period of time.
If things like this start to happen, pay attention. Check in with your teen and ask how things are going. If they don’t reply, acknowledge that they don’t want to talk and don’t push them. Instead, leave them an open invitation to talk.
Check Yourself – If your teen experiences a broken heart over a known event, such as a relationship breakup or a divorce, a death, or a best friend moving across the country, keep track of how your teenager is navigating those waters. It is possible the event that’s upset your teen has also upset you. If you’re experiencing a broken heart as well because of what’s happened, seek out help for yourself. The last thing an emotionally wobbly teenager needs is for you to start leaning on him or her for your own support. Both of you are bound to fall.
Avoid Judgement – Avoid judging what hurts your teenager. When a teen is in pain, it doesn’t help to hear you consider the reason to be stupid or meaningless or, worse, childish. Pain can be universal; everyone who hits their finger with a hammer will yelp. Pain is also personal; what injuries one person may have shrugged off, another person might feel more deeply. Even though you shrug off your teen’s pain, your teen still hurts.
I encourage you to get to know your teenager, to get beyond your irritation at their behavior, and to pay attention to what that behavior tells you about your teen. There seems to be an inverse reaction common among teens — the more they hurt, the more they hide. But pain cannot stay hidden indefinitely. Pain will come out. As a parent, you need to watch for signs of pain coming out.
- Watch for changes in behavior over an extended period of time. A couple of days of isolation are probably pretty normal for teens, but not a couple of weeks. The more significant the shift in behavior, the more you need to pay attention.
- Don’t expect an immediate response. The first time you ask your teen how they’re doing and he or she says “Fine,” don’t stop there if you suspect things are not fine. Let your teen know you’re concerned and specifically why.
- Communicate your willingness to talk about anything at any time. Then, be prepared to follow it up, even if your teen unloads more than you want to know two hours past your bedtime on a weeknight.
I can’t emphasize enough the pain teenagers hold in. They get hurt in so many ways that fly under their parents’ radar. Sometimes that pain translates into depression, eating disorders, anxiety, or substance abuse — behaviors that push the familial panic button and clearly signal something is very wrong.
But sometimes that pain is less obvious and the signals that something is wrong get drowned out by the sounds of everyday life. Slowly, quietly, that pain translates into a loss of optimism, a cynicism about life, the gradual strangulation of dreams, and a loss of hope for the future.
Is adolescence supposed to be a time of up-and-down moods and volatile emotions? Yes, but pay attention if your teen spends too much time in the pits. If he or she just doesn’t seem to be rebounding or continually refuses to talk about what’s going on, consider obtaining the help of a counselor. School counselors can be of tremendous benefit, but realize your teen may need to see a professional counselor outside of school. If your teen had a broken leg, you’d seek professional help. Since you’d get help for a broken leg, why wouldn’t you get help for a broken heart?
Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 36 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.