Breaking Up Is So Very Hard to Do, Except on Facebook

PHOTO: Melissa and William Ng of Cincinnati have witnessed public break-ups on Facebook. Youth experts say teens should think about the consequences of ending relationships online instead of face-to-face.
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Melissa Ng, an 18-year-old college-bound student from Cincinnati, was horrified when her friend told her about how her boyfriend broke up with her on Facebook.

"He changed his relationship status right away," said Ng, who will study film at University of Southern California this fall. "She was upset about it. I think there must be a way you can take your relationship status down without it showing up as a notification on everybody's news feed and not be a public thing people can comment on."

"He should have done it privately," she said. "My friend didn't have time to sort things out herself. I think it's always better if you talk about it, whoever does the breaking up. People need to be more sensitive."

And then there are the nasty comments that follow a public break-up, or friends "like" the split, leading the wounded party to question the sincerity of their friends in the first place.

"Breaking up is huge in anybody's life," said Susan Lipkins, a psychologist from Long Island, N.Y., who specializes in adolescents. "It's tough on everybody and it's something that plagues us throughout our lives."

"What Facebook does is it has extended the dimensions of a relationship," she said. "It's used in wonderful ways to be supportive, meeting people, connecting and finding more about a person you are dating, giving you a lot of information about them and their past."

"But it can also be negative when you find out that person has hooked up with someone else or you get information that is used against them," she said.

Just last month, the Boston Public Health Commission deemed the topic important enough to invite 200 teens from all over the state to a conference: the Break-Up Summit.

"We want young people to engage in healthy relationships and part of it is breaking up, an oft-neglected area because adults are not comfortable, nor do they have the skills," said Casey Corcoran, director of the commission's Start Strong initiative. "Nobody's talking about it."

Corcoran, who has worked as a teacher and with abusive men, said that learning break-up skills can also lead to healthier online and offline relationships.

"It helps kids do pre-planning and think about how they want their relationship represented online," said Corcoran. "What does it mean if I put my picture up and tag them? When we break up, do I save or delete them? Young people don't differentiate as much as adults between online and offline life. ... One of the wonderful things about the adolescent brain is impulsivity. And these [social networking] tools drive on impulsivity."

"A lot of fights break out on Facebook and most of them end badly," said Olivia Cook, a middle schooler from Cranbury, N.J. She said "mass defriending" could be considered bullying.

Massachusetts has struggled with several cases of online bullying, including the suicide death of 14-year-old Phoebe Prince, a recent Irish immigrant who hanged herself in 2010 after enduring months of torment by fellow students at South Hadley High School via text message and Facebook.

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