15

http://www.eruptingmind.com/the-effect-of-parents-on-a-childs-psychological-development/

Or perhaps as a teenager they confided in a parent about the pain they felt regarding a relationship which had ended, but instead of receiving comfort and understanding, they were simply told “not to worry about it” and “things like this happen“.

Throughout the child’s life, they constantly craved to be seen and understood by their parents. To be visible. But instead, they were made to feel ignored and misunderstood. Invisible.

  • What is the proper way to respond in this situation instead of saying "Do not worry about it" / "Or things like this happen"?

  • Why is saying the above statements bad?

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    IMO, impossible to answer without knowing how the teenager was raised as a child. There can be no single 'correct' or 'right' answer that fits in all cases. The problematic responses in the question would have worked well for our daughter as a teenager, but the final quoted paragraph didn't fit at all for her. – user2338816 Sep 6 '16 at 18:40
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    In my experience, telling someone "not to worry about it" just causes them not to come to you with problems. It doesn't actually make them stop worrying about anything. – corsiKa Sep 6 '16 at 22:27
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    FWIW I don't find that article to be a very good source of advice, it's littered with "motivational speak" cliche and "pop-psych" pseudoscience, even though it has a valid point to make overall. Telling a grieving or depressed person (which is exactly what a teenager who has broken up may be experiencing) just "don't worry about it" shows a lack of understanding of what they're actually going through, whether a teenager or not. If you are a parent and do not understand why this is so, maybe trying to learn more yourself may be a better solution likely to benefit your child. – fjw Sep 7 '16 at 4:34
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    "It's a good things that you two didn't have children, look at the mess I'm in after breaking up with your mother" is definitely, 100%, unconditionally NOT the thing to say. – dotancohen Sep 7 '16 at 15:19
  • Why would you treat a teenager any different than an adult? If your best friend came to you and told you that he/she just broke up with his/her partner, what would you say ? "Don't worry about it" or "things happen" feel really like the wrong thing. – Hilmar Sep 7 '16 at 15:47
31

A teenager will almost certainly have the mindset of "you're too old to understand what I'm feeling" never thinking that you were young once and perhaps experienced the exact same thing.

To a teenager, learning about these feelings they might not have had before, every love is true love and it consumes them completely so when it ends, they feel empty and don't know what to do with themselves.

So saying "don't worry about it" to them, is ridiculous. Why wouldn't they worry about it? They're never going to feel like this again. For them, it's like telling not to worry they've cut their arm off.

Same with "things like this happen". Yes they do. Relationships start and end every day but at that age, it's an end of the world event.

Saying these things will only reinforce the child's belief that you, the parent doesn't know what you're talking about.

My advice (and it is strictly my advice) is to let the teenager do the talking. Don't try to put your own experience on it or tell them about the time it happened to you. Just listen, nod, hug if needed.

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    Teenagers are happiest when they talk themselves into exhaustion about a particular issue. Bring it up in a judgement neutral way: "When I was your age, Cindy-Loo Hoo dumped me at the prom, and I was very glad that we didn't have anything like social media back then. What do you guys do with that?" Teenagers hate feeling judged, so definitely don't bring up anything you've expressed a very strong opinion about in the past when trying to broach the subject. – McCann Sep 6 '16 at 18:35
  • If you need to say something, "Man, that sucks" (and meaning it) or something along those lines seems alright. Sure, you know it's not the end of the world, and maybe they do too, but even so, experiencing something like this for the first time is legitimately sucky. – AlbeyAmakiir Sep 7 '16 at 5:02
15

Remembering my teenage times, statements like

"Things like this happen"

aren't helping you feel less sad. Of course most teenagers cognitively know that relationships can break apart, and by telling them this they feel talked down to. They know that, but that doesn't make them feel better.

If someone is grieving over something else, would it be a good idea to tell them "things like this happen" or "don't worry about it"? I don't think anyone would feel taken seriously if you said something like that.

This might feel like one of the worst moments of the teenagers life to them and by saying things like that, you'll seem like you're trying to take the (subjective) gravitas of the situation away. Teenagers are somewhere between childhood and adulthood, and by just "waving their problems away" this matter, you are effectively treating them like children again.

What is the proper way to respond in this situation?

The proper way is to take them seriously.

They probably feel completely and utterly lost now, so be a bit careful on how you word things. Maybe tell them that you yourself felt like this at one point. Make them feel understood, make them believe you that almost everybody went through this at one point, but they all made it in the end.

I think it also heavily depends on your child and your relationship to them. I'll bet there are some parents out there who could cheer up their teenage children with some slightly cynical jokes. Some others might just be there and listen. Again others might do some activity to take their childs' mind off of the ex-partner.

It all depends on who they are as a person and how your relationship is. Just don't ignore it or hand-wave it away and you'll probably do fine, because you know your kids :)

10

If one of your adult friends says they're breaking up with their partner, would you just tell them "these things happen, get over it"? Of course not. So why would anyone think it is any less insensitive to say that to a teenager going through the exact same emotions? Think what you'd say to an adult going through a breakup, and apply the same level of sympathy and empathy to the teenager.

Probably all of us have been there ourselves. If someone can't empathise with someone going through an experience which you've also been through, then they're a pretty poor excuse for a human being. That quote suggests they've been a pretty crappy parent anyway, so perhaps this is just more of the same.

8

While your teen may not want to discuss the recently-ended relationship with mom or dad, it's important to show that you take it seriously (even if you're secretly doing your happy dance). So the best way to open a discussion is:

"So, how does that make you feel?"

or

"How are you doing?"

or even just

"Are you OK?"

Your teen may not want to discuss the why or the how, but he or she will likely be willing to answer that question, especially if you're willing to listen to the answer. And if you listen to that, the conversation may turn to the why or the how (they did for us).

Although you may not have seen the relationship as "serious," remember that, to your teen, this is a major life event, especially if it's his or her first relationship. As others have mentioned, they're unlikely to listen to platitudes ("There's someone else out there!") and will shut down if you offer them. Just...listen.

5

One time I broke up with a girl in high school. I was pretty wrecked about it. I remember the subdued atmosphere the next day after I told my parents that we broke up. Seeing that I was distressed about it, my dad told me:

"If it hurts, that means it meant something."

This gave me a lot of comfort. To him, the pain was good, because if a breakup was easy, then what would that have said about the relationship? If you can't or won't change the breakup, acknowledge the pain, find some things to be grateful for in the moment, and let that console you as you figure out how to move on.

Perhaps that's only good advice for the person who ended the relationship and not for someone who got dumped, but I figured I'd pass it along anyways.

1

support (what can you do to help), empathy (acknowledge the legitimacy of their feelings), truth. In that order.

I am here to listen whenever you want to talk. I know you feel hurt. It will take a while but the pain you are feeling will pass.

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