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Your Health

How do you mend a teen's broken heart? Handling adolescent love and loss

 

February is the month of love, so it might be helpful to know how to help when your teenager’s heart gets broken.

The teen years have a reputation for being challenging – characterized by growing independence and raging hormones. So what can you do when love goes south for your budding romantic?

When love is in the air, your child may be filled with excitement and passion. Breakups can be equally overwhelming and lead to strong feelings of pain and loss. As a parent, there’s nothing you can do to fix it, but there are some things you can say and do to help.

Most importantly, listen to your teen and encourage him or her to talk. One of the most important things when listening is to remember that your child’s feelings are real. Even if you consider the relationship insignificant or of the puppy-love variety, try not to discount your teen’s feelings. If you do, he or she will probably stop talking with you. If you need some inspiration, think of the scene from the movie “Love Actually,” during which young Sam is describing his lovesick feelings to his stepfather.

Daniel: Aren’t you a bit young to be in love?

Sam: No.

Daniel: Oh, well, OK … right. Well, I mean, I’m a little relieved.

Sam: Why?

Daniel: Well, because I thought it would be something worse.

Sam (incredulous): Worse than the total agony of being in love?

Daniel: Oh. No, you’re right. Yeah, total agony.

Aside from talking, listening and validating your teen’s feelings, following are additional strategies you can try.

• Remind your teen of his or her positive qualities. Often a teen will feel unloved or unworthy after a breakup. Remind your child of all the positive attributes he or she has to offer the world.

• Encourage enjoyable activities. Spend special time with your teen and do something he or she considers fun, like going to the mall, a movie or an arcade.

• Help your teen take care of herself or himself. Encourage your teen to continue to eat healthful food and get plenty of sleep while nursing a broken heart.

• Give your child time to heal. Don’t expect him or her to quickly bounce back or move on. Be patient and allow time to heal.

• Know when to seek help. Teens can and do experience major depression. Keep an eye out for the symptoms of depression and contact your doctor if you notice any of the following.

- Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in nearly all activities.

- Change in appetite or weight.

- Insomnia or excessive sleep.

- Agitation/unrest or visible slowing of movements.

- Low energy.

- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

- Impaired concentration or indecisiveness.

- Recurring thoughts of death or suicide.

February is often thought of as a celebration of love, but unfortunately love can lead to loss and heartache. The next time your teen comes to you for help, use the above tips to help mend a broken heart.

 

Dr. Natasha Leman is a pediatrician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation’s Redwood City Center.

The Palo Alto Medical Foundation and column editor Arian Dasmalchi provide this monthly column.

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