Healing the heartache
By Zenaida Serrano
Advertiser Staff Writer
As the mother of teenage girls, Jasmine Mau-Mukai knows a thing or two about mending broken hearts.
The Niu Valley resident, 53, recalls "dropping everything" to comfort one of her daughters after a particularly devastating breakup.
"It is important to just be immediately available," said Mau-Mukai, whose daughters are 19 and 15.
When teens — even tweens — go through their first real breakup from a relationship, it's critical for parents to be there for them and acknowledge their feelings, said June W.J. Ching, a clinical psychologist in Honolulu. Being young doesn't make them immune from experiencing heartache and grief, she said.
"Regardless of your child's age or the duration of this initial relationship — weeks, months or a year — if they regarded the relationship as a meaningful one, the sense of loss, hurt and disappointment is truly stressful," Ching said.
Parents should recognize that teens deal with pain and heartache in different ways, Ching noted. Some may openly cry, be irritable or angry, or isolate themselves from family and friends.
"There is no 'right' way to grieve the loss of a first breakup, but parents can send a vital message that they care and want to be supportive during this difficult time," Ching said.
And parents who make an effort to comfort their teens will reap benefits far beyond healing young hearts.
"This is an opportunity for parents to actually connect with their child during this delicate process, to help your child learn important life lessons within adversity," Ching said.
It's also a chance for parents to show their teens that they can relate to their feelings of helplessness and hurt.
"True empathy is a powerful tool when you are trying to support your child," Ching said. "Once they perceive you as understanding and caring, you can then introduce key coping skills that are inevitable with (other) hardship and hurts in life."
While Violet Shimoko believes dating is inappropriate for children until the late teen years, "the reality is that children are exposed to far more than we parents are able to control these days," Shimoko said. Shimoko is the founder of ClubCharm, an after-school program for girls ages 7 to 12.
Shimoko remembers when her only child, a son, now 21, went through his first real heartache as a ninth-grader in high school. Shimoko said he reached out to her, telling her how hurt he felt over the broken relationship.
"Through hugs and shared tears, I couldn't help but say, 'I love you. You are a wonderful person. Keep developing yourself, son, and you will attract the person of your dreams,' " Shimoko recalled.
Turning the attention away from the hurt and instead toward how much you love your teens validates their self-worth, Shimoko said.
"It translates into the all-important, 'It matters that I exist,' " Shimoko said.
Shimoko also suggests parents engage their children in a heart-to-heart discussion when things calm down, coach them to express their feelings through words, and encourage them to confide in trusted friends.
Mau-Mukai, the mom of two teen girls, added that parents can cheer up their heartbroken teens with little comfort items or simple gestures — fixing a favorite snack, hiding a surprise note of support in a backpack or giving a Starbucks gift card, for example.
"It just helps them feel like somebody cares," Mau-Mukai said.