“You don’t understand. I love him!” she wailed from behind the locked bedroom door. Helpless, I stood outside. It was so easy when my daughter was young – just kiss the boo-boo, put a Band-Aid on it and the pain would magically go away. Now, at 16, she was suffering from her first heartbreak, and nothing I could say or do would make it better. All the adult wisdom and experience I shared with her wouldn’t stop the tears. Only when she and a friend performed a ceremonial shredding of his picture, did she seem on the road to recovery.
Teenage romance in the 21st century and heartbreaks are about as inevitable as the four seasons. It’s not a question of will it happen, but when, and how your teen will handle it. For some teens, all it takes is a quick cry and they are on to the next relationship. For others, it can lead to prolonged depression, especially in high school when they share groups of friends and their identities are intertwined with one another. Add to that such public forums as MySpace and the repercussions of a nasty break-up can reach much farther than the school hallways. This can leave parents at a loss to understand their teenager’s emotions, as the world of dating and “going steady” is very different now from when parents were teens.
“Teenage romances have changed due to the way media portrays romance and to the fact that children are reaching puberty faster,” says Allison Edwards, LPC, a local counselor who specializes in treating children and adolescents. “Romantic relationships often become a priority for teens. They are more likely to choose their significant other over their friends, family or school work, but are often unable to see the consequences of this ahead of time.”
When teens get into an intimate relationship, they can alienate their friends and drop out of favorite activities to spend more time with each other. If a breakup occurs, the ensuing drama can make going to school and social events emotionally difficult – at least for awhile.
Technology plays a role in teenage relationships now more than ever. Not only can computer social networks make a break-up more public, these forums can be used for revenge as warring parties air their disagreements by posting nasty messages and pictures on Web sites. In addition, the Internet provides teens who might be lonely or on the rebound a chance to get involved with chat room relationships that can prove risky. This is why it is important to discuss with teenagers the dangers of putting information online, Edwards advises.
“People get kind of upset when a couple breaks up. They get in little arguments. If it is within a group of friends, people pick sides. Boys side with boys; girls side with girls. It can get kind of rough, but things usually sort themselves out,” says Lindsey Davison, an eighth grader.
Nashville School of the Arts sophomore Markus McClain says that 50 – 75 percent of students he knows are in relationships, which can lead to some pretty dramatic situations when the couples part ways – especially for girls, he says, because they are “more emotional and more sensitive.” “At my school,” McClain says, “everyone is in everyone else’s business. You have more of a support group, but people gossip more and it affects more people.”
High school senior Nick Currier agrees that girls are more emotional, but says break-ups can be just as hard on boys, especially if the former couple attends the same school.
“I was in a relationship last year,” says Currier. “It took me a long time to get over it because we didn’t talk a lot afterward. We never reconnected. I had to see her every day. It was hard. I finally got over it during the summer,” he adds.
Break-ups of long-term relationships can last even after high school, according to Lesa Abney, whose daughter went through a rough relationship her senior year in high school. The couple shared classes and a circle of friends, which made moving on after the relationship more difficult.
“It took her a good six to seven months to recover. She finally got over it when she left home and went to college,” Abney says. “People took sides. It affected her school work because they had a lot of classes together. Boys are not nearly as dramatic as girls. Their friends don’t get involved as much,” Abney adds.
So while matters of the heart are what teens will go through, there’s another area that is not as typical and more troublesome: How can you know if your teen’s relationship is potentially harmful?
“When teens start pulling away from friends or family or exhibit signs of great sadness or distress – those are signs that the relationship may be unhealthy,” says Edwards. “The best way that parents can help their teens is by modeling healthy relationships themselves. In the case of single parents, it is helpful to talk about what healthy relationships look like,” Edwards adds.
For those teens who are reluctant to talk to parents, trusted teachers and guidance counselors can be a good place to turn for unbiased advice, although most students agree that teachers don’t often get involved, unless asked.
When break-ups do happen, most teens still want their parents’ reassurance – even if from a distance. They want them to be encouraging, keep the lines of communication open and definitely not dismiss their feelings as a simple case of “puppy love.”
“It is important for parents to remember that their teen’s feelings are real and acknowledge them as such,” says Edwards. First love relationships are often the hardest to recover from, so it is important to be patient with teens and not dismiss the strong reactions to their relationships.
“Parents need to be involved,” Abney agrees. “They need to know what is going on with the relationship, and they need to be there when it ends.”
Karen Dyer is a local freelance writer and mother.
warning signs of an unhealthy teen relationship
- Avoiding family and friends
- Sadness and withdrawal
- Allowing the significant other to:
- Act extremely jealous over time spent with others
- Criticize appearance
- Make your teen quit an activity that he or she enjoys
- Have fits of anger (hitting walls, throwing objects)
- Force your teen to go further physically than is wanted