Stop Telling Teenagers All They Need is Ice Cream After a Breakup

“Get her some ice cream!”

If I had a dollar for how many times I heard that after my daughter’s devastating breakup, we could buy out the whole grocery store freezer department. Newsflash, ice cream doesn’t always cut it. Actually, it’s possible ice cream is never the answer for a broken heart.

My daughter fell in love with her best friend at 16. Their relationship was intense. They brought out the best and worst in each other. It ended ugly. Months later, they still aren’t even able to talk to each other because the hurt is so raw. She lost a boyfriend, but she also lost her dearest friend and one of her favorite people. She didn’t eat. She didn’t sleep. 

Showering took huge effort that she couldn’t muster up for days at a time. All she did was cry. Our whole household was in turmoil. I took her to therapists and psychiatrists. She ended up in the ER because dehydration and exhaustion triggered a migraine that just wouldn’t let up. We were all barely holding on, her pain swallowing up everything 
surrounding it.

And still...people prescribed ice cream. A few suggested we watch Gilmore Girls while feasting on our pints of creamy goodness. I love Rory and Lorelei, but I knew they weren’t fixing this. This was well beyond the power of Phish Food, too.

It’s been six months and she’s slowly working through the grief. I don’t have all the answers or a magical cure for taking away a child’s heartbreak–oh, how I wish I did–but here are a few things I have learned along the way.

  1. People don’t know what to say, so they rely on standard responses like, “Get her some ice cream.” This doesn’t mean they don’t care.
  2. Most people don’t take teenage relationships seriously to begin with, thus flippant remarks about ice cream are often made. This relationship and this breakup were both very serious to my daughter.
  3. Sometimes mom and dad aren’t enough. Her therapist said it’s a good idea to seek professional help if a teen isn’t moving on from a breakup or lost friendship after two weeks.
  4. Time isn’t the cure. Deciding it’s time to move on is. Someone can stay stuck in their pain for years if they don’t decide “enough.”
  5. You can’t make someone decide “enough.” They have to come to it on their own.
  6. Space and new experiences eventually help replace the raw pain.
  7. A hurting person doesn’t always feel like engaging in new experiences or seeking out new friends. Grief is exhausting. It often doesn’t leave room for anything else.
  8. Space can also be hard. My daughter logically knew staying away from his social media and avoiding him at school was the best thing for her, but the pull to someone you miss so very much is hard to resist.
  9. Make sure your child doesn’t feel like a burden to you. They need to know you’ll still be there even if all of their friends get tired of hearing about the breakup.
  10. You might miss their ex, too. He was part of our household for a year. It was a loss for me. However, it’s important not to upstage your child’s breakup with your own feelings.

Things to say to a teenager experiencing a heartbreak instead of “Want some ice cream?”

  • I’m sorry you’re going through this.      
  • This sounds really hard.
  • It seems like you’re really hurting.
  • I can tell that he/she was really special to you.
  • It’s okay to be upset.
  • Is there anything I can do right now to help you feel better?
  • What do you need from me so you feel supported?

Teenagers have big, strong feelings and they don’t always completely understand them. They might not have the words to express them to someone else. Things get turned upside down quickly and sometimes it’s hard for them to find their way to the surface. Be there to help them pull through it. Don’t trivialize their feelings by saying all they need is some Ben & Jerry’s. Listen. Acknowledge. Support. By all means, dig into some ice cream together if you both have a craving, just don’t call it the cure. (Unless you know of magic ice cream, and if so, I would like to place a large order.)

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24 Jun 2021

By Rachael Moshman

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