February is known as the month of love… and pressure to find and keep it. Culturally it seems that no corner of the world is safe and with social media, it’s no wonder that our pre- teens and teenagers feel the need to be in a ‘romantic’ relationship. But what happens when these relationships break down?
Whether your child has broken up with their best friend or first love, it can feel like a heart- breaking experience for them and they may experience grief on this scale. Having lost a close relationship, they may also have lost their closest confidant or the person they most had confidence in sharing themselves. Part of their identity may come into question and they might be asking themselves – Will anyone ever really like/love me again?
Who to turn to?
When you most expect them to turn to you for advice and support they might feel unable or unwilling because that’s ‘not what kids of their age do’. As children get older it is normal for them to spend more time with and look for advice or support from their peers. In the teenage years, young people will naturally go through a stage when they identify more with their school friends, BFF or boy/girlfriend than their family. It is part of growing up.
But coping with these overwhelming feelings of loss often leaves teenagers feeling that they are the only ones who have ever felt this way. Normal routines and activities they used to find enjoyable can suddenly feel empty or pointless. If they cannot find a way to come to terms with or talk about these feelings they might turn to or develop unhealthy coping strategies. These may include avoiding people, binge-eating or not eating at all, using alcohol or drugs, self-harm, or immersing themselves in computer games or cyberspace. Some of these strategies may be short-term coping mechanisms but all these strategies over a period of time will have negative consequences for their physical, mental and emotional well-being.
What can you do as a parent?
Try to find the space and time when you are alone and are not likely to be interrupted. Encourage them to talk in general. It’s important to give them the chance to open up and not be too quick to ask probing questions. It sometimes helps to find an activity you can enjoy together like going to the cinema, shopping or sport. Then you can either chat while you are doing the activity or go out for a meal afterwards.
Don’t be dismissive of what they are going through; be open and listen without too many questions. These first relationships are an important part of their emotional development. Try to remember what it was like to lose your first best friend or love. It is often thought that playing down these emotions will somehow help them get over them quicker. The truth is that it will only make your teen feel justified in their belief that you wouldn’t understand.
Let your child know that you are open to talking about this anytime. And be aware that ‘anytime’ for a teen might be after 11 pm, and not be the most convenient time for you. It’s important to try and be there for them.
When talking about their former friend or ex, be careful not to talk negatively about them. You may feel angry or disappointed that they hurt your child but this will not help your child to process what they actually feel which is often ambivalent.
Recognise that your child may need to go through a period of mourning, not unlike grief. Let them have space for this and try to be patient whilst encouraging them to keep up some kind of routine, engage in activities they enjoy and try to eat a healthy diet.
As parents who love our kids, it can be hard to accept that our love may not be enough to just see them through this stage. Of course, we want them to talk to us but this may not always be what they want. This is when it is good to know that there is a service we can encourage them to use that is confidential and anonymous.
The KJT Campaign: Discover the English Online Help Service
The KJT Online Help Service can support children, youths and their parents in English, German, French or Luxembourgish. The English Online Help service was launched in 2015 and is presently running a publicity campaign for young people in Luxembourg.
The campaign mascot ‘Bod’ is touring schools and places where young people meet to distribute postcards to advertise this service. A new postcard will be published each month around a theme that affects children and young people.
The general theme this month is ‘how people cope’. The campaign will run for 12 months, and there is a competition with prizes to find a letter hidden in each card that makes up a 12-letter word most important to this service.
Encourage your child to look out for this publicity and even try out the service. No question or problem is too big or too small and the fully trained volunteers can provide support, information and appropriate signposting of places to get on–going support in Luxembourg. To use this service or for more information contact www.kjt.lu
Lynn Frank BSc. (Hons. Psych) MSc. (Health Promotion) is a Licensed Positive Parenting (Care for the Family UK) facilitator. She is a psychologist with over 20 years experience of working with groups and individuals, children and parents facing the challenges of modern-day living. For further information and registration, click here.