Helping Teens Deal with Grief
The teenage years are a time of change. Bodies change. Feelings change. Attachments change. Teens pull back from their family to develop their own identities. They pursue romantic relationships and new interests. It’s a challenging time that is made more difficult when teens experience the loss of a significant loved one.
While people of all ages struggle with loss, teen grief is particularly complex as they have a better understanding of death than younger children, but may struggle to find ways to balance their grief with their desire to fit in with their peers and find independence from their parents.
How do teens grieve?
Teenagers feel things deeply, but often work to hide those feelings – particularly from their family. It is important that parents and other caring adults helping teens deal with grief be aware of the subtle signs of grief in a teen. These signs can include:
- Lack of concentration
- Lower grades
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Over-activity (doing more schoolwork, extra chores, anything to block out thoughts of the loss)
- Wanting to be alone more
- Eating too much or too little
- Use or abuse of drugs or alcohol
- Insomnia or sleeping more than usual
- Risk-taking behavior
- Suicidal ideation
How to Help Teens Deal with Grief
Even if a teenager has experienced loss in the past, this may be the first time they’re expected to fully participate in a funeral or other end-of-life rituals. Families can start helping a teen deal with grief by preparing them for what to expect. Not knowing what the proper etiquette is for the event can cause added anxiety for teens who don’t know what to expect or how to act. Families can also involve them in the planning of the services and ask them if they would like to be a part of the service in any way. They can encourage a grieving teen to participate in the services, but should not force them.
It’s important to let teens know that grief doesn’t end with the funeral or memorial service. In many ways, this is just the beginning of the grief recovery process. Let grieving teens know that it can help to express their feelings and celebrate the person they have lost.
How to Talk to Teens about Grief
It is always painful when a loved one dies. Adults can help teens deal with grief by sharing their own feelings about the loss and talking about some of the conflicting emotions they may feel. They can let teens know that each person’s grief is unique and that it doesn’t follow a linear path. They may be happy for weeks and then suffer an emotional setback. This is normal.
Finding ways to celebrate and honor the person they have lost is a good way to help teens process grief and get them talking. Families can create a scrapbook or shadowbox with treasured memories. Other ideas include planting a tree in their loved one’s memory or lighting a candle to remember them.
Families should let grieving teens know that professional bereavement support is available. Teens may resist the idea of getting help at first. It’s normal for teens to dismiss the idea of counselling several times before agreeing to try it. A joint first session can be a good way to start to help them ease into the idea. If the teen continues to resist, the family should talk to a grief counselor about other ways to support them.
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care provides complimentary grief recovery groups and can help families find grief support. Please call 1-888-564-3405 for more information.
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