Q. Our 14-year-old daughter Bella’s first and only boyfriend Justin broke up with her and is now with another girl in her class. We were told that the new girlfriend can go out on dates with a boy alone until midnight. Bella is very upset about not having Justin as her boyfriend and blames us for having too many rules about dating; we have only allowed her to go on chaperoned group dates and she has to be home by 10 p.m. Why is Bella so crushed over a boy she only went out with on a few group dates? How can we help her get over this “tragic” loss in her life?
A. In the pre-teen and teen years, emotional attachments and fantasies are often formed around an innocent and even brief love interest. Memories of a first love can last a long time; very small attentions from another teen can be quite meaningful for them. Bella is at the age when female and male hormones are increasing and kids are trying to figure out what love relationships are like. At the same time, normal teen development has a teen questioning much of what her parents do and say.
While it may be painful to be told you are wrong about something you feel is right and to be blamed for “ruining” your teen’s life when things upset her, you are playing a role in your teen developing her own views about life and the world, as well as helping her become sufficiently independent when it is time to leave home. Here are some suggestions on how you can help Bella through this emotional time:
• Encourage her to talk about how she feels. Accept that this is the way she is feeling and don’t question whether these feelings are reasonable or not. Listening empathetically is an important action on your part.
• After listening and accepting the feelings as real, you might ask the following question: what is the worst thing about losing your boyfriend? It may be about “losing face” with the other kids. Ask your teen: what do you think would help make this situation better? What could you say or do? Let your teen do the work of figuring out solutions to her problems.
• Encourage her to talk about what she liked about the boyfriend and what she didn’t like. Memory-sharing helps in dealing with painful feelings. Again, just listen. Be sure to avoid speaking negatively about the boyfriend; if you talk badly about him, your daughter’s next boyfriend could be chosen out of normal teenage rebellion and be much worse.
• Avoid rushing your daughter into “getting over it” or getting a new boyfriend. Give her some time to mourn her loss, although providing distractions is a good idea.
• Hold firm to your rules about dating but talk about how and when you will modify them and under what circumstances.
Life with teens brings crises as well as moments of pride and joy for their accomplishments. The important thing for you as a parent is to stay calm, be reasonable, listen much more than you talk and to help her participate in resolving the crisis and solving her problems.
Betty Richardson, PhD, RNC, LPC, LMFT, is an Austin-based psychotherapist who specializes in dealing with the problems of children, adolescents and parents.
Got a question for Betty Richardson? Email us here and you just might see the answer in an upcoming issue!