Wednesday 14th February is Valentine’s Day and so we’re shining the spotlight this week on teen heartbreak.

Most of us can probably recall our teenage years with a mix of excitement, angst and all the emotions rolled into one. It’s a time of our lives when the brain is making rapid changes, leading to an increase in risk-taking behaviours and extremes of emotion. And, along with all of that, is the all-too-common first-time heartbreak that often goes hand in hand with this stage of our lives.

As parents of teenagers or young adults dealing with a breakup, this can be a particularly challenging time as often we are seen by our children to be ‘too old’ to understand what they are going through or it’s too embarrassing for them to share this part of their life with us. Ultimately, we often see the fall-out that dealing with breakup grief can bring. In its extreme, it can lead our teens or young adults to engage in self-destructive or more risk-taking behaviours such as:

  •         Anger outbursts and extremes of emotion
  •         Self-harming
  •         Controlling food intake
  •         Isolating themselves and becoming withdrawn
  •         Using alcohol and other substances
  •         And more

Dealing with a breakup in your teenage years can be difficult, and it can be extremely worrying as a parent to feel at a loss with how to help our teen through an emotionally difficult time. Our natural instinct might be to help them gain some perspective on the situation by saying things such as “You are better of without them” or “one day you’ll meet someone better” or even “there’s plenty more fish in the sea” (one our own parents might have used!); however, this can inadvertently make our teen feel invalidated, leading to more frustration and a block in communication.

Dealing With Breakup Grief: How to Help Your Teen Deal with Heartbreak

So, how can I help my teen if they are suffering from heartbreak?

To encourage your teen to open up, it can be helpful to understand the neuroscience behind heartbreak:

  •         A broken heart is essentially a form of grief. No matter how old we are, having our heart broken leads to feelings of grief and loss. When we are in love, our brain releases chemicals such as oxytocin, which helps us to form a bond with our partner.
  •         Our brain keeps track of this bond by time, space and the intensity of the connection. When we are not with our loved one, our brain becomes really good at predicting when the next contact will be, allowing us to cope when we are apart. Our brain wires the closest of connections deeply in the brain, leaving us knowing who we feel close to and who feels special to us.
  •         Our subconscious brain knows that any time we are apart from a special person, we will always be reunited with them again at some point. Whilst, intellectually, we are aware that relationships end and people can leave, our subconscious brain has a hard time coming to terms with this as it has learnt, through the wiring of the brain, to expect a reconnection when we are apart. This is why dealing with breakup grief can be especially difficult. 
  •         When a relationship ends, we literally need to rewire our brains. This can be a huge task for our brain, particularly if the relationship was long-term. The conscious part of the brain knows the relationship is over, whilst the subconscious part (which relied on predictable connections) struggles to make sense of this change. We have to create new habits and new connections, but our subconscious part of the brain will lag behind for a while and take time to catch up with the reality of the situation. It is this discrepancy between the two parts of the brain that lead to feelings of grief and loss and make it difficult to be consoled.

6 Tips to Provide Support to A Teen Dealing with Breakup

As we know, heartbreak heals in time but there are also some things you can do to support your teen at home.

Take a look at our Youth Fairy tips:

  1.       Take the pressure off. Remember, your teen will talk to you when they feel ready. Try to keep conversations low-key and causal, such as during a car ride or when you’re already engaged in an enjoyable activity together.
  2.       Keep them focused on the positive things in their life. Yes, they are going through a difficult and emotional time but support them to keep sight of their own interests and passions. They were their own unique person before their relationship and they are still their own unique person now.
  3.       Take your teen out on a ‘date night.’ As parents, we are our children’s ultimate role-models. Often, even subconsciously, our children look to us as a hallmark for what to expect from a relationship. Offer to take them out and show them how to expect to be treated by a potential partner – this could be a going out for a meal and holding the door open for them and bringing flowers, or having a fun afternoon out with plenty of laughs. The message here is to show them how a person worthy of their time should make them feel – and if a potential partner doesn’t measure up in this way, to keep looking!
  4.       Know their love language. You might have heard of the ‘5 love languages’ created by Gary Chapman, but did you know these exist for our parent/child relationship too? (Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell have even written a book on it called ‘The 5 Love Languages of Children’). The idea behind this is that we can often show love in the way we like to receive it, but often our ‘love language’ is not the same as our partner’s or our child’s. For example, our child might feel more loved when we give them a hug or use words of affirmation, or buying a thoughtful gift might mean more to them than quality time together. Learn what makes your teen feel most loved and do more of this to help them out of a tricky time.
  5.       Schedule in time for worrying and grieving. When dealing with breakup grief, it is very important for teens to express their feelings. This is so important if we are to help our teen from falling further into a negative spiral. It is such a careful balance between validating our teen’s experience and allowing them to process the full range of their emotions, whilst helping them to not become completely absorbed by them. Support them by scheduling times in the day where they can be fully present in their worrying and grieving but then to set aside ‘must do’ tasks that also enable them to get on with their day. These tasks can be set by them and can be anything that offers them a structure to their day.
  6.       Remember there is no wrong or right way to grieve and everyone has their own timeline for grief. Whilst three months might be plenty of time in your eyes for your teen to have got over their heartbreak, for them, they may well still be in the midst of their grief. Remember, there is no fixed time for how long it should take someone to get over a heartbreak or loss. If a significant amount of time has passed and your teen is still struggling, it may be time to reach out to your GP or therapist for your teen for professional support.

If you’re teen is struggling with feelings of heartbreak and loss, we can help. 

Get in touch with your nearest Youth Fairy now.

Other charitable organisations that offer free help and advice include: for the prevention of young suicide a free text messaging support service for all ages