We’ve all been teenagers in love—and now many of us are raising teenagers who are bound to get their hearts broken as a result of breakups and loss. Here are some of the worst things you can say to a teenager who is suffering from a broken heart.
1.”Don’t be sad.”
Don’t try to downplay the natural reaction—and need—to express emotional pain. “When they see their child experiencing disappointment, parents often want to fix it and eliminate the negative feelings,” says Mark Loewen, LPC, a child counselor with LaunchPad Counseling in Richmond, VA. “This parent response denies the child the chance to process their feelings in a healthy way.” It encourages teens to repress what they feel and teaches them they are better off not paying attention to their emotions.
2. “There are other fish in the sea.”
Not only will this oft-repeated cliché inspire a teen to roll their eyes, it will make them feel you are devaluing the issue. “As adults who have had much more experience than teenagers, parents know these things are true,” says Julie Stucke, Ph.D., child psychologist at Dayton Children’s Hospital in Dayton, OH. “However, these kinds of statements will only upset teens and lead them to believe their parents don’t understand the depth of their hurt.”
3. “You’ll find someone better when you get older.”
A teenager with a hurting heart is not too interested in the future, and will be less inclined to seek help or comfort from their parents when they hear this statement.”This is a critical stage in their lives where they’re beginning to learn who they are and what they want, and this comment can feel insensitive to what they are experiencing,” says parenting coach Mercedes Samudio, LCSW, who suggests gentle guidance over distracting statements. “As they date and break up with their partners, teens need guidance on how to reflect on the relationship so they don’t make the same types of choices in their next relationship,” she says.
4.”You’re too young to really know what love is yet.”
It may seem like “puppy love,” but it is not up to adults to judge what is in the heart of an adolescent, or deem their feelings any less significant than those of an adult couple standing at the altar on their wedding day. This statement is completely invalidating, says Lori Schade, LMFT, marriage and family therapist and a mom of seven who is currently raising her sixth teenager. Rejection causes pain no matter the stage at which we are in life. “To be supportive, acknowledge that breaking up is painful and the feelings are real,” she says. “You can offer up experience that over time the pain diminishes, but allow your child to have their feelings.”
5. “You only believe you are in love.”
This only serves to pour salt into the wound. “Teens experience love with the same depth of emotion as adults,” says parenting strategist and life coach, Natalie Blais. “Love is love, and we all experience it in our own way. We need to give our teens the freedom to learn how to process how they feel and provide them a safe place to turn to when the heart is broken.”
6. “You don’t want to limit yourself to one person at this young age, anyway.”
When hopes of a long term relationship with one special person are dashed, no one wants to hear they should be out playing the field. “When a person is dumped, they will personalize it, wondering, ‘What is wrong with me?'” says marriage and family therapist, Linda Carroll, author of Love Cycles: The Five Essential Stages of Lasting Love. “We need to be able to grieve our losses and not bypass that grief, and at the same time not become so identified with the loss that it becomes who we are.” Carroll says the best approach is to remind a teen of things that make them especially lovable in order to gradually help them feel positive about themselves again.
7. “He is not worth your tears.”
A teen who just had his or her heart broken may wonder if anyone will ever love them or find them worthy again. “This expression minimizes the child’s experience, as if they were just crying because they can’t have something,” says Loewen. “Many different factors play into the child’s sadness. Using a statement like this one discounts their struggle and reduces a complex issue to a simple whim.”
8. “I know how you feel.”
Parents should avoid bringing their own personal stories into the situation as a way of claiming to know what their child is going through. “Teens generally believe their emotional pain is unique to them, so they are unlikely to believe such statements,” says Stucke. “Furthermore, these types of statements take the focus off the teenagers and result in teens feeling their parents are making the tragedy all about them.”
9. “I never really liked him, anyway.”
This comment may simply anger your teen and result in them defending the person. “This just says to your teen that next time they like someone you may be secretly hoping they break up, or even try to break them up, because you don’t like the guy, or [that you think] that their taste in people is poor,” says Gail Saltz, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at The New York Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornel School of Medicine. It isn’t uncommon for high schoolers to get back together with someone they have dated in the past, and comments like these are unlikely to be forgotten.
10. “You’ll look back on this one day and laugh.”
This may be so, but it is definitely not something a teen wants to contemplate when the pain is raw and immediate. One of the worst things to do is try to distract a teen or push them to get over it, fast, says Deborah Serani, Psy.D., psychologist and author of Depression and Your Child. “It’s important for adults to realize that a broken heart is a real thing and not a passing stage or phase,” says Serani. “When sadness or loss is extreme for anyone, including teens and kids, the heart muscle tenses and the stress hormone cortisol surges, making that area around your heart feel heavy. Recovery from a broken heart takes time, literally and figuratively. The heart and hormones need time to return back to normal, and the mind needs to heal from the loss. So try not to put a swift time limit on your teen’s recovery. “If you find your teen has been suffering from a broken heart for six weeks or more, Serani advises seeking the counsel of a mental health professional.