I always knew that raising teenagers would have difficult moments, but now that I’m in the midst of one that’s hurting my child deeply, I don’t know how to handle it.
She’s experiencing her first break-up and the feelings from rejection are dragging her down to the depths. It’s as if she’s decided it happened because she’s unlikeable.
She’s 15, and “dated” her boyfriend for 15 months, even through the pandemic. He’s in a grade higher and, when schools were open, they’d meet for lunch every day. Later, he’d come home with her and hang out.
By the time of Covid lockdowns, they were already in our family bubble. My husband and I went along with it because the boy’s family was also small and let our daughter visit there (mostly outdoors and masked).
They’ve both been respectful of each other and there was no obvious reason to interfere. They’re also both good students and encouraged each other to study.
Now, my daughter’s like a wounded animal - listless, almost hiding from me.
I’ve even had to bathe her, as she started neglecting her own hygiene. She said, “What for? Nobody wants me anyway.”
It’s sad but also shocking to see how vulnerable a teenager can be - going from confident and proud of how she’s handling a first relationship, to deflated, depressed and, I fear, on the edge of emotional despair.
We talked to the boy’s mother to ask if she knew something we should know about what caused the break-up.
She was sympathetic but said he only told her that, since he was working harder and hoping to get accepted after next year to a University far away, he felt they should have some space between them, or the move would be too hard on her.
Well, he certainly recognized her deep sensitivity, but didn’t understand that his sudden cut-off to their previous closeness, while still in the same city with the same friends, would be devastating.
How can I help her before her reaction becomes more extreme?
Very Frightened Mother
You were always right to recognize how fragile a teenager’s self-confidence can be. Even the most popular boy and/or girl in the classroom may have hang-ups - e.g., his skin isn’t flawless, her hair’s hard to manage. Even such seeming small and reparable matters can become a demoralising obsession.
In your daughter’s case, the trigger is obvious. One minute she’s secure, confident, happy. The next, no matter his reason, she feels tossed aside.
And at her age, it’d be rare for her to have the inner security to tell herself, we’ll keep in touch, I’ll miss him, but we’ll see each other when he’s home for holidays...
Instead, she gives up on herself even to the point of not feeling the need to be clean.
This is when two significant sources of comfort and understanding are crucial - the first from her immediate family, the second from an experienced professional, if your daughter remains withdrawn and miserable for an extended time.
Young teenagers especially, don’t have past experience with a sudden ending to romantic hopes. Parents need to validate their feelings of loss while also encouraging them with assurance of future happiness.
However, if you notice persistent signs of depression after several weeks, changes in eating habits and loss of interest in other activities, seek help from a psychologist who can diagnose these symptoms and also offer counselling.
FEEDBACK Regarding the African American woman whose husband doesn’t speak up against his brother when he makes racist, and homophobic remarks (February 22):
Reader – “I feel badly for her. Was this just something that happened out of the blue? Or were there signs early on in the couple’s relationship that she may’ve missed, instead seeing everything through the eyes of love?
“Or maybe the family did a good job of hiding their true feelings?
“In our big, Italian family, we have people of all colours, creeds, ethnic backgrounds and sexual identities. I won’t say that there are no racists/bigots among us, although they are mostly silent.
“They were always like that, although none of us will tolerate them behaving other than respectfully toward family members of whom they may not approve.”
Reader #2 - “If her husband excuses his family’s deplorable behaviour, she needs to dump him fast!
“With no respect there’s no love, only an attachment.”
Tip of the day:
Validate your teenager’s hurt feelings after a first breakup. Stay understanding and comforting but seek counselling help if signs of depression persist.