A heartbroken teen is a heartbroken parent.

As Valentines approaches, chances are we are on high alert for any signs our tween or teen may have a special someone in their life, or at least in their heart. 

Typically this time of year is rife with candy grams around school, social dances themed in red and pink, and for some youth, a date with someone they have been crushing on. 

For others, this time of year can bring up feelings of sadness and worthlessness if no candy grams come their way, if no one asks them to dance, if they don’t have a special date lined up for the 14th. 

Teens are especially sensitive to rejection this time of year because of all the pressures and expectations and hype they see about Valentines and the messages they hear about the “importance” of not being alone.

Today we could talk about how to help them feel good enough and strong enough no matter what this special day brings. We could also talk about how you can make them feel immensely loved, because as you know, the foundation for this self-worth starts at home (one of our amazing members leaves post it notes on his daughter’s mirror every day for the month of February with messages about what he loves about her and reminders of her wonderful traits and talents). 

However, I think we need to talk about helping them navigate grief and heartache. Because teens and tweens are feeling a lot of it lately and valentines day is but one small pebble in the huge backpack of pain they have been carrying around during this pandemic. That backpack is getting heavy and hard to hold. Valentine’s Day may just be the pebble that makes it impossible to carry. 

Read on to learn how you can help them lighten the load. ​

Typically when we hear the word ‘grief’ we think of the death of a loved one, or at least the very significant loss of a loved one (perhaps through the breakup of a long time relationship, or a falling out with a dear friend). 

We don’t often recognize the grief that comes from other significant losses, however. Losses such as: Not being able to go to prom, not being able to socialize and see friends for years on end, feeling immensely isolated, the loss of the high school experience you were looking forward to and deserved to live. The loss of ones sense of health, safety, and security due to emerging mental health issues as a result of an ongoing crisis like a pandemic. The loss of one’s academic motivation, aspirations, or grades. The resulting loss of future opportunities that relied on those grades like preferred colleges or scholarships. The loss of hope that there will be normalcy in the future. The loss of a dream. The loss of the vision of what your future was going to look like.

For teens and tweens these losses hit hard. Growing up, your kids learned from movies, music videos, social media and even your own stories, that high school is a culture in and of itself that will bring immense growth and opportunity and fun! SO much fun. 

Of course, we adults realize that high school can actually be super hard and painful because of all the social dynamics we need to navigate, coupled with our development and hormones going wild. And during the pandemic your kids have not been immune to those pains. 

But they hold them on top of the additional realization that everything they had dreamed about and envisioned, didn’t come to light. 

Your teens are feeling significant loss right now. And it’s a loss that they may not be able to articulate or make sense of because, societally, we don’t talk about or even acknowledge these types of very real pains. 

We say things like “it’s just high school, it’s just prom, it’s not a big deal. Get over it”.

We see our kid melting down over something that doesn’t seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things (when compared to the very big deal issues we may be feeling as parents – things like job loss, financial strain, managing multiple kid’s health and wellbeing, relationship strain, caring for aging parents, the loss of family members or loved ones due to Covid etc.)

But for your teen, this WAS their world. Everything they envisioned, relied on, looked forward to, and constructed their identity around. When you look at it this way, they are losing pieces of their identity when they cannot attend prom, or they don’t get to go out and socialize. They are actually missing out on developmental needs that are crucial at this age and stage. That is scary for them. 

And they don’t know how to handle it. 

And it’s OK if you don’t either. Because we aren’t taught these things (well, until now!)

The next few weeks we are going to dive into what grief and loss expert, Pauline Boss, calls “complicated” or “ambiguous” grief. You will get tips and tricks you can use right now to see what types of grief your kid is experiencing, and the language you can use to connect with them to help them through it. You will also get to know Kim Clark, one of The Expert Talk’s very own grief management experts. 

Here’s your homework for this week: 

To lighten your tween or teen’s load, you first need to know what they are carrying. There’s no magic special phrase to use to unlock their inner pain; it’s right there at the surface. Just ask them: What’s the most painful thing about this pandemic for you? What do you think you missed out on most?

And once they start talking, ask them what else they are sad about, missed out on, or wish they could be doing. 

Big and small, it’s time to start identifying those rocks, pebbles, and boulders that are in their backpack of pandemic pain. 

When we can label the rocks, pebbles, and stones, we can offer to help carry them for them so they can go back to simply being teens again. 

Fun, freedom and exploration, with a little bit of resilience and responsibility, is what this stage is all about. Let’s get those scales tipped back into balance.