Community Against Violence Column

Teens - How to break up, 101

By Malinda Williams
For The Taos News
Posted 2/20/19

Our children are inundated with bad examples of celebrity breakups carried out through social media. This exposure has taught our young people to think that the best approach to ending a relationship is through their cellphones or on the internet.

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Community Against Violence Column

Teens - How to break up, 101


Adolescent years can be tough - for both teens and their parents. During their youth, most teenagers will go through many dating relationships and, of course, breakups. With so many electronic options for engaging in and ending relationships, times have significantly changed from Grandma's days of "Dear John/Jane" letters.

Our children are completely inundated with bad examples of celebrity breakups carried out through social networking sites like Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. This exposure has taught our young people to think that the least painful, best approach to ending a relationship is to do it through their cellphones or on the internet. This is not surprising - according to the Pew Research Center, approximately 95 percent of 13- to 17-year-olds now own or have access to smartphones, as compared to 73 percent in their 2014-15 survey. Many of these teens have perceptions that media makes it easier to communicate with friends and make new social connections.

In past columns we have discussed the dangers of "sexting" (sending sexually explicit material via cell or internet), stalking, bullying, and general digital abuse. In this column, we share some resources for parents to use in discussions with their teens before decisions are made about breaking up with dating partners.

The Boston Public Health Commission, in collaboration with others, hosts an annual "Break-Up Summit" put together and led by young people. They focus on the breakup period of teen relationships, the highest risk time for teen dating violence. The summit's goals are ways to identify strategies to help teens engage in healthy relationships.

One of BPHC's tools uses cellphone reception bar images to help teens think about the best way to be safely heard and understood during a breakup. The "U R Breaking Up!?" tool shows a full five bars (the best) when teens first think about not wanting to continue a relationship and then sit down face-to-face with their dating partner in a safe and neutral location. Face-to-face allows both people to benefit from the use of words, body language and tone of voice to have clear communication.

Four bars is breaking up by talking on the phone. This is a little less effective but at least offers direct connection and includes being able to hear someone's tone of voice. Unfortunately, it can also include interference, abrupt hang-ups, zero body language and a lack of privacy.

Email drops the clarity of connection to three bars, but it is hard to tell whether someone is joking, angry or truly serious about a breakup. Unless the young person uses words in a way the other person clearly understands, the chances for miscommunication increases significantly.

With texting, a mere two bars on the scale, there is too little space for explanation and too much room for misinterpretation that can add to the pain and increase the feelings of rejection.

Just a single bar (the worst) is given to social networking sites. It is best if your teen avoids announcing breaking up on social networking sites. Avoiding direct contact with a soon-to-be "ex" and publicly breaking up via Facebook, MySpace, AIM or Twitter may feel good if the breakup is angry or contentious - but, as BPHC points out, "posting hurtful messages tells more about you and how you treat others."

For some great information and tools for both teens and parents in supporting their teens, visit "Start Strong" of the Boston Public Health Commission at

Malinda Williams is the executive director of Community Against Violence, Inc. (CAV) which offers FREE confidential support and assistance for adult and child survivors of sexual and domestic violence, dating violence and stalking; community and school violence prevention programs; re-education BIP groups for domestic violence offenders; counseling; shelter; transitional housing; and community thrift store. To talk with someone or get information on services available, call CAV's 24-hour crisis line at 575-758-9888. Visit


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