“We broke up.”
“What did he say?”
“He didn’t say anything, he just changed his Facebook status to ‘single’ and my best friend saw it and texted me about it; then I saw a picture on Instagram of him with another girl.”
I kid you not; I’ve heard these words. This is how some teenagers end relationships.
It brought me back to eighth grade and the heartbreak I felt when a boy whom I really liked told me that we should “break up.” At the time, I was completely devastated and thought my world was ending. However, at least the tone in his voice and the way he looked at me showed that he cared, he felt bad, even though he still wanted to dump me.
Looking back, it felt like a real ending — but the modern-day version of breaking up via electronics leaves the couple not having to face each other’s emotional experiences.
In this day of Instagram, texting, Snapchat and Facebook, it proves difficult for teenagers to actually talk without any devices. Teenagers can decide to date, have a relationship and end that relationship all via electronics as the main medium of communication. There’s actually research being done about the effects of breaking up via Facebook.
Do we want our kids to grow up and have relationships with people without knowing how to look them in the eyes and say, “I want to break up”? Our kids miss out on being able to observe how their words can impact others. Reading a Facebook post does not teach this.
So if texting is one way people can maintain invisibility with their emotions, how do we teach kids to handle upsetting someone face to face? We can’t exactly start practicing break-ups with them, but we can show them how uncomfortable feelings can be handled.
At work, I often encourage clients to not hide an occasional argument from their kids — it’s OK for kids to see how real-life upsetting situations are handled. If children are encouraged to express their feelings — including difficult ones — in front of others, they learn. A modern-day parent’s job clearly includes showing kids how to talk about their emotional experiences, which, I hope, will lead to texting with empathy and integrity.
Admittedly, I’m still concerned. Kids probably will grow up texting their friends before picking up the phone to talk. They will live through the ups and downs of their relationships via electronics because that’s what “everyone” does.
And if they break up with a boyfriend or girlfriend by texting or an online post, will they be as kind as my eighth-grade boyfriend? Will they understand that underneath a Facebook relationship status-change there are feelings? I hope so.
— Valerie Frankel, MFT, is a licensed therapist in private practice who lives in Davis with her family. Her column is published monthly. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org