Breaking up is hard to do.

A father told me yesterday afternoon that he was worried about his pre-teen son’s future break-up habits and how they would effect his son and his son’s future, theoretical dating partners. (Might sound a bit preemptive, but I had asked this dad to tell me his biggest fears around his son’s sexuality, and this is one of the things that he was the most worried about.)

I’m working under the assumption that if one parent has this fear, so do others. So here’s what I told him:

Break-ups suck, regardless of the age. But they are potentially a good long-term learning experience for teenagers. (If there are any teenagers reading this, please forgive me! Keep reading and I hope I’ll win you over.)

It’s good for teenagers to learn how to handle re-grouping after a rejection. And it’s also good for teenagers to learn how to make a considered rejection.

There are lots of times that we get rejected. It can be by a love-interest, by a college, by a publishing agent, by potential job, by a current job (getting fired or “reassigned”). And learning how to hold on to your self-compassion through such an event is critical. Adolescence is a pretty good time to learn – the stakes aren’t as high as with a marriage or a career. It still hurts, it still sucks big time. But it also teaches re-grouping skills in a very effective, hands-on way.

There are also lots of times we need to reject someone else. This can be as simple as saying no to a request for a date to as complicated as firing a friendly co-worker who is the only breadwinner for her family. Again, this can be emotionally draining, but sometimes you’ve got to do it anyway. Not very many people are good at saying no gracefully and then let the other person deal with their own hurt feelings. And learning how to do it as well as possible is better to do as a teenager than as an adult. Because the stakes are lower.

When’s the last time you were rejected or you rejected someone else? Do you feel like you handled it well? Do you feel like the other party handled it well?

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I have had some horrible break-ups in my day. The worst was probably simply moving away. Totally cowardly. I told her I would call with my new phone number etc, and just never did.

    The healthiest was when I sat down ahead of time, and thought about the worst possible reaction they might have. And then I asked myself, “Knowing that might be their response, do I still want to break up?” Since the answer was yes, it was much easier to move forward and be clear.

  2. My first boyfriend broke up with me by postal mail, then had to break up with me in person later because I didn’t quite believe him. It was heart-wrenching for me and very annoying for him. We were 16.

    When I was 20, I broke up with my ex by going to his house and telling him it was over, spent several hours listening to him say “I don’t understand why you’re doing this” 300 times, and ended up having to rely on my wits to get out from under him when he decided I wasn’t going to leave. In retrospect I wish I had brought you or someone else (maybe a man) along, even just to wait in the car, but I had no idea what was going on back then.

  3. […] Theologian Ponders Praise,” by Stephanie Anagnoson of “Surviving the Workday” and “Breaking Up is Hard to Do” by Karen Rayne of “Adolescent Sexuality…” Acceptance and rejection are two sides […]

  4. […] at “Adolescent Sexuality by Dr. Karen Rayne” responds to a father’s worry about his son’s romantic break-ups: It’s good for teenagers to learn how to handle re-grouping after a rejection. And it’s […]

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