We can all agree that breaking up stinks. It’s hard at any age. But despite learning over the course of our lives how to build good relationships, how to be aware of the dangers of drugs and alcohol, why drinking and driving is a bad idea, and how to use social media appropriately, most teens rarely are taught how to break up in a healthy way. A recent study found that almost all teens have broken up with, or been broken up with, someone via text or on Facebook. Very few considered the impact this had, and equally as few had not broken up with someone face-to-face (or at least in a conversation on the phone).
Many adults may not think that discussing how to break up in a healthy way is important. It certainly may not be something parents consider when talking with their teens about relationships. Unfortunately, all research points to the importance of doing so. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 teens reports being in an abusive relationship of some kind (emotional, physical, verbal or sexual) and 10% of teens report being a victim of relationship violence. For some, mostly young women, ending the relationship has resulted in their death, at the hands of their ex-boyfriend.
Based on these alarming statistics, clearly a dialogue needs to be started to focus on what can be done differently, how to stay safe, and how to be direct in your interactions, while being mindful and caring about the other person’s feelings. The difficulty, I found, is that teenagers don’t want to listen to their parents on this topic…in fact, they often do not want to talk with their parents as they feel judged, criticized and are concerned that they’ll get punished for doing something. So, where do teens go to get their information? To their friends, and to the media. And the role models they look to in the media aren’t great. Have you watched an episode of Jersey Shore lately, with the drama between Ronnie and Sammie? Not the healthiest to say the least, and yet, this is where your teens are learning how relationships should look and how breakups can go. No wonder they are petrified about breaking up face-to-face!
The question, then, is what to do? How can we start to speak with teens about the important things that they really need to know? One place to start is with a wonderful organization, Start Strong, which is an initiative sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. RWJF has invest 18 million dollars in Start Strong, which aims to teach young people, starting in middle school, all about relationships, and has now, started to teach them about ending relationships. In addition, Start Strong provides resources to parents as to how they can handle the situation, talk with their children and get support.
As parents, the key is to stop and listen. If you ask a question, listen to the answer, with as little judgment as possible. If your teenager feels criticized for making a mistake in the relationship, do not count on him/her wanting to talk with you about it again in the future. Be open and honest with your teen, and be available to him/her when they come to you. It’s a challenge to put aside your own biases when it comes to your teen, and if you can, your teen will look to you as an ally rather than an enemy. When it comes to relationships, platonic and romantic, they really think you know nothing. Show them that you can contribute and help. If they still won’t come to you, help them identify some trusted adult with whom they will talk.
Two weeks ago, Start Strong Boston sponsored a Break Up Summit. I was lucky enough to be able to go, and even luckier to speak with a group of teens about their experiences for The Early Show. Below is the link to the segment:
For information about Start Strong: http://www.startstrongteens.org/
How are you talking with your children about this tough topic?