How To Help Your Teen with a Broken Heart

By The Fix staff 02/12/18

Saying things like “I know how you feel,” “It will be okay,” or “You’ll find someone else,” is understandable, but this is not what your teen needs to hear in the moment.

Sad girl with mother in background.

When did you first have your heart broken? Whether it was an unrequited crush or the end of your first relationship, you probably have strong memories of the crippling pain that teenage romance can bring. The only thing worse, perhaps, is watching your own child go through those feelings.

“It can be gut-wrenchingly painful to watch because the pain is so real and so raw,” says Cole Rucker, the founder and CEO of Paradigm Malibu, an adolescent treatment center in Malibu, California.

Teens can be sensitive, especially when they’re hurting. Here are some tips for helping your teenager navigate heartbreak without pushing them away.

Don’t trivialize their pain.

Having been in real adult relationships gives you an entirely different perspective on teen love.

“There’s a natural inclination to say ‘oh it’s puppy love,’ or to apply other labels that mean it’s not real, or it doesn’t impact them deeply,” Rucker says. “That isn’t necessarily true.”

Although the relationship might seem insignificant to you, it’s best to keep that view to yourself and focus on the real feelings that your child is having.

“Young people feel things very deeply,” Rucker explains. Teens naturally have more polarized thinking, which can amplify their feelings of loss.

“Everything feels incredibly wonderful or absolutely horrible,” Rucker says. “There’s not a lot of in between.”

Understanding that your teen’s intense reaction is developmentally appropriate can help you connect with the patience and understanding to see them through.

Don’t share your own experience.

Many people have a natural inclination to share their own experiences while comforting people. Saying things like “I know how you feel,” “It will be okay,” or “You’ll find someone else,” is understandable, but this is not what your teen needs to hear in the moment.

“When an adolescent is freshly wounded, you don’t want to make it about you,” Rucker says.

Instead of relying on those platitudes, Rucker recommends that parents validate their teens’ feelings.

“Say ‘I’m so sorry that you’re hurting. This seems very painful. If there’s anything I can do I’m here,’” Rucker recommends. “You want to validate the feelings, not minimize the experience, and leave an open door for conversation.”

Give them space, but watch for trouble.

Chances are that your teen won’t feel like talking to your about their heartbreak, especially initially. That’s okay, Rucker says. Help them organize the opportunity to talk to someone else — an older sibling, an aunt or uncle, or a counselor. It’s probably a good idea for parents to step back, while also keeping an eye on your child.

“Give them some space, but not so much that they’re able to withdraw from the world longterm,” Rucker says.

Encourage your child to deal with the pain in small bits, so that the process is less overwhelming.

“The most healthy thing you can do is feel it and work through it, but do it in pieces,” Rucker says.

It might be time to seek help If you notice that your child is:

  • no longer interested in speaking with friends
  • spending an excessive amount of time in his room
  • exhibiting other signs of depression

Understand your own emotions.

Sometimes parents might experience their own strong emotions around a teen’s breakup. That could be because you’ve grown attached to your child’s boyfriend or girlfriend, or because seeing your teen’s pain brings up your own past experiences.

Whatever your feelings, it’s important to understand where they’re coming from.

“The most important thing is to figure out what this is really about,” Rucker says.

Are you reliving your own experience, or mourning the loss of your own relationship with the significant other? Understanding your own feelings can help you better support your teen.

No matter how strong your experience, remember that you are the adult in the situation.

“We have to, as adults, keep healthy boundaries and parameters,” Rucker says. “We need to make sure that we’re not doing things exclusively based off of emotions or we get ourselves and our children in trouble.”

Celebrate an unconventional Valentine’s Day.

Valentine’s Day is tough for many teens, whether they’ve recently gone through a breakup or are feeling that they might never get a boyfriend or girlfriend. To help your teen cope, make the day a celebration of non-romantic love, Rucker suggests.

“It’s fine and appropriate on Valentine’s Day to celebrate all types of love and loving relationships,” he says. Buy your child flowers or chocolate, or cook their favorite meal. They might roll their eyes at the gesture, but the message will be loud and clear: they are loved.


Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent treatment center in Malibu, California. Find out more at or follow them on Facebook.

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