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My teen boy is heartbroken. What can I do? Add to ...

The question

My 13-year-old son just had his heart broken in his first relationship. He won't speak or eat, and it's been five days. What can I do?

The answer

It's easy to dismiss a boy's broken heart as juvenile - good for you for taking this challenge seriously. He is depressed; I am concerned that he has refused to eat for five days.

The first step is to get him to at least eat small amounts of food. Perhaps you can even allow him to eat his favorite junk food -- simply as a way to get some calories into him.

Explain to him that these disappointments are inevitable. But don’t tell him to get over it and just suck it up and be a man. Don’t pressurize, patronize or nag him. He's obviously very upset and these actions will only make it worse.

Make sure he understands that you are there to support him and that he is allowed to have these emotions. Be a good listener and don’t pressure him to talk if he is not ready. Be prepared to stay up late - some teens open up very late at night when you may be dead tired.

Some teens are more comfortable talking to one parent than another. Don’t take it personally if you are not the parent he confides in.

Instead of giving advice, ask questions. Look at things from his angle. Keep the questions open-ended such as “Tell me more about….” Offer him the option to write down his emotions in a journal where he may be able to express himself better.

Try your best to get him outside: the bright sun and fresh air can help a teen get a fresh burst of energy and open up.

When bad things happen to us, having something pleasant to look forward to helps tremendously. Make plans for a trip to the ocean, a vacation to a place he loves or maybe a shopping adventure.

A best friend’s help can make a huge difference as well. At this age peers have a major impact in how teens make decisions.

Send psychologist Joti Samra your questions at psychologist@globeandmail.com. She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on The Globe and Mail web site. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

Read more Q&As from Dr. Samra.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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