How Parents Can Help Young Adults When a Romance Ends

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Guest columnist Randi Mazzella is a freelance writer and mother of three.  She primarily writes about parenting, family life and teen issues.  Her work has appeared in many online and print publications including Teen Life, Your Teen, Scary Mommy, SheKnows and Grown and Flown.


As September approaches, many young adults face a difficult decision.  Should they stay in a romantic relationship or break up before heading back to school or off to college?

Whether a relationship was purely a summer fling or was a long-term relationship that went on for many months, the end of summer can also mean the end of the romantic relationship.

How can parents help their young adults in their life cope with an end of summer break up?


Summer Fling Fizzle

It is not surprising that many young adults have summer romances. Dr. Kate Roberts, family psychologist and parenting coach, explains, “Young adults have fewer responsibilities in the summer and parents tend to be looser with the rules.  Kids stay out later, hang out more often and there may be more alcohol involved. This leads to more hook-ups and romantic interaction.”

In addition, young adults may act differently at camp or a summer job than they do in a school setting.  This may make them more open to romantic relationships they would not pursue during the school year.

 While summer romances tend to heat up quickly, many fizzle out equally as fast.

Young adults may enter into these summer relationships with an expiration date already in mind. The finite nature of the relationship is what makes it so appealing.

If both parties see the relationship as a summer fling, ending it can be fairly simple.  But if one party thought the relationship was going to lead to more, it can be upsetting.

This feeling of sadness may be compounded by the realization that summer is ending and facing all the pressure and responsibilities that comes with a school year.


College Goodbye

Another big reason young adults break up at the end of the summer is because one or both of the partners is leaving for college.

For long time couples, this can be a heartbreaking decision. Roberts says, “Even though we live in a ‘hook up’ culture regarding young adults and dating, the end of high school can be a nostalgic time filled with celebration and young people can get very attached to each other.”

 High school couples may become very comfortable with each other. The fear of leaving home and the uncertainty of their new life in college may bring the couple closer together. Roberts explains, “Today’s couples can develop an unhealthy dependency on one another, especially with technology. They may be texting and interacting all day and night, making separating that much more difficult.”

Making a clean break before college can be a good idea, especially if the couple will be a long distance from one another.  Being in a relationship with someone from home can be distracting and limit a student’s ability to really embrace the college experience.

Says Roberts, “College is a big transition. To fully experience all college has to offer, young adults need an open mind and a willingness to step out of their comfort zone.”


How Parents Can Help  

Do be supportive: Young adults may feel ambivalent about ending a romantic relationship and may need help sorting out their mixed emotions. Be a sounding board. Listen attentively and without judgment.

Don’t give ultimatums: Ultimately the decision of whether a couple should stay together rests with the couple. Roberts says, “Parents can strongly encourage their child to break up with a high school or summer sweetheart but they should not demand it.”  

Don’t belittle your child’s pain: Stay away from contrite sentiments such as “You’ll find someone new” or “It’s for the best” which come off false.

 Instead, let your child know that no matter what age you are, it is normal to be sad when a relationship ends.

Do understand the perils of break ups and social media: Social media can be a stumbling block for young adults trying to move on from a romantic relationship. Rather than wondering what an ex is up to, they can find out easily and even see pictures. Caution your child to be careful about what details he shares when dealing with a breakup. Remember nothing online is private, not even a text between friends. Roberts says, “It can be hard, but I advise young adults dealing with a breakup to have no contact for a while when trying to move on from a relationship.”

Don't Become Overly Involved: While a parent may really like their child’s significant other, high school is too early in the dating process to be making a boyfriend or girlfriend feel like a part of the family. Roberts says, “Today’s parents want to be included in their children’s lives so much that they may become overly invested in their child’s relationships. They want to be ‘cool’ so they invite the boyfriend on a family vacation or let the couple share a room in their house. But it is too soon in the dating process to make them feel like a part of the family and this can complicate things when the child feels the relationship is over.”

Do help your child be empathetic: Help young adults to express themselves appropriately. Roberts says, “Encourage your child to use ‘I’ statements when ending a relationship such as, ‘I need to grow in a different way’ so that the breakup feels less like a rejection of the other person.”

Do let your young adult grieve: Give your child a couple of weeks to grieve the end of a romance. Remind your child that these feelings of sadness will pass over time.

Do encourage your young adult keep busy: Even though young adults tend to move away from their family as they strive for independence, it is important to let them know you are there for them.  Family, friends, social activities, exercise, etc can be great buffers and support for young adults as they cope with the end of a relationship.