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Ask the Expert: How Should My Daughter Handle a Mean Ex-Boyfriend?

Dear Your Teen:

My 16-year-old daughter dated a seemingly nice young man for a few months. Then the boy broke up with her. He returned from a vacation and kept telling my daughter that he had met someone from another state. Now the other girl is texting my daughter and the mean ex-boyfriend sends my daughter ugly messages comparing the two girls. We care about this boy whose parents have had a very nasty divorce, but this can’t continue. I don’t know whether to call his parents, confront him, or leave it alone. I did ask my daughter to block him from her phone and social contacts, and I explained to her he was trying to get a girl fight going to boost his ego. How does a teen girl handle an ex boyfriend being mean after a breakup? Need advice please.

EXPERT | Dr. John Duffy

First, I have a deep appreciation for the fact that you are not just reacting, but really considering this entire, fairly complex social situation. I am particularly impressed that you can find empathy for this boy, to the extent that you understand the context of his behavior. I also like the fact that you exercised the presence of mind to avoid escalating the episode into crisis mode by making an angry, potentially hair-trigger and ill-advised call to one or both of the boy’s parents.

But keep in mind that, despite your wishes, your daughter may be inclined, if only through curiosity, to maintain some social media or text-based contact with this boy or girl. And frankly, mandating no contact might prove unsuccessful. Further, this situation smacks of cyber-bullying, and feels as if it could escalate. So I would encourage you to be fairly insistent on this point, but allow her the opportunity to handle it on her own, with you as a guide and consultant.

Still, remember that your daughter’s well-being has to be the top priority.

If this ex boyfriend’s harassment continues, you need to reach out to the boy’s parents.

Perhaps most importantly, I would like to see you continue to make yourself available to your daughter should she need to talk through her feelings surrounding these relationships. Really hear her out, especially if she’s suffering.

Finally, this is a great opportunity to talk with your daughter about what is important to her in relationships with boys, and girls, in general. I suspect that respect, kindness, and loyalty will be on her list. With her ex-boyfriend being mean after a breakup, help her to consider what she might learn from this episode in order to avoid similar dynamics in the future.

Dr. John Duffy

Dr. John Duffy, Chicago-based clinical psychologist, is the author of The Available Parent: Radical Optimism for Raising Teens and Tweens.