Breaking up is hard to do – especially for teenagers

Breaking up is hard for teenagers |

By Rachel Hynes.

It was more than 25 years ago but I remember the moment clearly, despite forgetting so many other things between then and now. It was evening, I was lying down on my bed. My face hurt from hours of crying, my body was doing those shuddering breaths caused by a bout of inconsolable grief, and my chest ached because my heart was, quite simply, broken. It was my first relationship break-up.

My mother was kneeling beside my bed, at a loss as to what to say. She rubbed my back and gently said, “It’s ok, there are plenty more fish in the sea”. (Note to parents: this is the wrong thing to say to a heartbroken teenager when the pain is still so fresh.)

“A relationship break-up can be worse for teenagers than for adults”

If you didn’t experience a teenage relationship break-up, or if the years since then have muddied the memory, researchers are here to remind us that it’s very, very painful.

According to a study undertaken by the Australian National University with the American and Texas psychological associations, teen love is usually infatuation, which is a more consuming emotion than love. A relationship break-up can be worse for teenagers than for adults.

The combination of a developing brain, surging hormones and a lack of identity leads to adolescents “merging”, so that they feel not quite whole when apart.

Mum Jules Seet experienced the pain of a teenage relationship break-up last year when her son, then 17, broke up with his first love. He had been in a two year “fairytale relationship” which had turned to talk of marriage and children. But then it ended suddenly, and he “fell hard”, Jules says. She wrote of her son’s “incredible deep painful agony” in her blog The Bumpiest Path.

“A developing brain, surging hormones and a lack of identity leads to adolescents ‘merging’, so that they feel not quite whole when apart”

University of Canberra clinical psychologist Dr Vivienne Lewis, who specialises in treating teens, told Fairfax news that it was not uncommon for adolescents to be referred to her practice with severe depression, after the end of even short relationships.

She said that because teenagers are not used to the experience they can be completely crushed by a relationship break-up, whereas adults have usually been through a few relationships so they are more careful.

Advice for parents

Dr Lewis told Fairfax that parents need to understand how devastating a break-up can be for their teenager, as the relationship may have been “their whole life”, even if only for a month.

Parents with teenagers in relationships are advised to help their children stay engaged with other things – family, sport and school, for example – to prevent the relationship from becoming all-consuming.

“It’s when it becomes the sole part of their life that it becomes dangerous”

“It’s when it becomes the sole part of their life that it becomes dangerous and when it breaks down could lead to mental-health issues,” said Dr Lewis.

After her teenager’s relationship ended, Jules says: “We stepped in, picked him up, dusted off his knees and hands and sent him on his way. But not without shedding our own tears for his hurt.”

Her words of advice for parents counselling a heartbroken teenager?

“When they are ready to talk, then you be ready to listen. Don’t say ‘I told you so’. Take it day by day, step by step.  Each teenager is different some will recover fast, others not so fast. Be guided by your teenager’s readiness to move on and recognise it’s all very real to them.”

Did you remember how painful it was to break-up as a teenager? Have you been through it as a parent of a teenager? What advice would you give?




  1. I certainly could have done with this info when I was growing up. I can remember sitting in the bath crying and sobbing my heart out after a break up. Funny, my Mom also said there were more fish in the sea !!!!! Like I cared at that point in time !!!!
    K went through a breakup a few years ago and all I could do was hug her and hold her and pat her on the back and tell her that in time she will realise that everything happens for a reason. She can laugh about it now but it wasn’t so funny then !!!
    Have a great day !

    • Thanks Me for sharing your experience – I think you got it right with your daughter. It’s what we did with friends too – a lot of listening, a lot of back patting.

  2. Break ups in the Teenage years are traumatic, there is so much going on mentally and physically that anything out of the ordinary such as a broken relationship can seem like the end of the world.
    Jules post gave many the chance to take a look inside the reality of a teen heartbreak. The only thing we can really do is make sure we are there with lots of hugs and support and a listening ear x
    Beck recently posted..The Pocket Money DebateMy Profile

    • It’s the listening that’s key, isn’t it? I will have to remember to shut up and listen when the time comes.

  3. I completely agree, it took me so long to get over my childhood sweetheart break up – I dread it happening to one of my three angels : (
    Emily @ Have a laugh on me recently posted..What do you skimp on?My Profile

  4. I didn’t have any teenage romances, but I do remember being particularly heartbroken after a breakup in my early twenties. Not much advice to offer, except that old chestnut “You’ll know when you meet the one”. It’s clichéd but it’s true!
    Amanda @ Cooker and a Looker recently posted..a letter to my twelve year old selfMy Profile

    • I remember being a wee bit tougher in my 20s (seriously, not much!) – perhaps as a result of going through it younger as well.

  5. My first teen break-up was against both our wills, we went to the US for 6 months and his family moved from Sydney to Nowra so it became doubly geographically impossible, on the up side it lacked the devastation of rejection. The only other one was one where I ended it, I was still sad that it hadn’t worked out, but mostly relieved and I suspect the same might have been true for him, we stayed friends for quite a few years afterwards. I’m still married to the one who came after that.

    I’m making a mental note now – no offering of platitudes. I’m pretty sure my instinct with my daughter will be to quote lines from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and ask if she’d prefer to “lie down and listen to country music. The music of pain.” or whether it’s more of an “Um, I understand that this sort of thing requires ice cream of some kind?” sort of situation.
    mimbles recently posted..Friday Fragments – Heatwave editionMy Profile

  6. This is so true, and so well-written. So many adults seem to forget what it’s like, and are dismissive of the pain felt by teens during breakups, which seems to magnify the hurt and alienation they feel. (Yes, been there). I think I’d be more inclined to feed my daughters chocolate and rom coms and let them cry till they dehydrate, if they need to.
    Kim@FallingFaceFirst recently posted..The female midlife crisis – 35 is the new 40My Profile

    • Why do we so easily forget? I was glad for the reminder too. I think your girls will be very lucky to have you when they go through it. Your approach is spot on.

  7. I had forgotten…until I read this post. Thankfully my son is only 4 so the only thing breaking his heart at the moment is when the rain keeps them off the playground at school! But I remember having my heart shattered into a million pieces at 16 years old. Actually, after that, I did all the dumping! Interesting…
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  8. My daughter has just got her first boyfriend, you are scaring me!
    Anyway it could be all over next week, I’m making him come to the family dinner for her birthday, her parents, her Nana, her Great Aunt. I said it was best to lay out all the dysfunction for him in one go.
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  9. I remember those feelings. You literally think you’re whole life will end and you don’t know what to do.
    It’s such a mess.
    I hadn’t thought about that yet in regards to my own kids. I wish I could just wrap them up so it never happened.
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  10. Great post Rachel. I remember vividly my first break up and I thought I was going to die! I will have to remember that when the time comes and be sure to show a little empathy!
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  11. What a wonderful article Rachel. My daughter is only 5 but I’ll be filing away these suggestions for down the track. I had hopeless crushes when I was a teenager and was paralyzed when the object of my affection started going our with a friend. I couldn’t talk to anyone about it. Years later when I was at uni I remember being consoled with endless cups of tea, chocolate and toast after terrible break ups. I agree that being told there’s plenty more fish in the sea is the absolute WORST thing you can say!
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  12. My high school sweetheart and I broke up (for a time) when I was 20. It was horrible for both of us.

    We moved on as best we could and eventually realised we were meant to be together. I say ‘eventually’ even though it was less than a month, but at the time it felt like forever. It involved moving out of a shared apartment.

    Break-ups are horrible at that age. And if it had been earlier? When it was still at school? I know I would have fallen in just as big a heap for a while. Great post.



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