Teen years can be naturally difficult. When a teenager is faced with the loss of a friend or family member, keep in mind that they may also be going through the normal psychological, physiological, and emotional changes common to all teens. Adolescence is a developmental period which is already full of change. Teens may be looking more and more grown up every day, but they aren’t yet adults. Physical development doesn’t equate with emotional development. For certain, they will be relying on adults in their lives to help them through the experience of grief and loss.
This article will give you some specific suggestions about what to do, what to watch for when dealing with a teenager who has experienced a loss, and how to help them express their feelings. Here is a great quote from Sandra Dupont, MFT:
“It is important to rest during this time and take good care of yourself. Eat regular meals. Confide in someone you trust. This could be a good time to start a journal, if you don’t already have one. Feelings carry information for us, even the darker feelings. It is important to not run from your feelings, but to observe and learn from them.” Sandra Dupont, MA, MS, MFT
Sometimes when a teen experiences the death of a friend or loved one, it is his or her first experience with the end of life. It may be unexpected, such as a sudden illness, or an accident. They may be confused, or have questions. This is an important time for compassionate and open communication about the loss. Approach your teen with love and honesty. Let them know you are available to talk and to help them process the loss.
Don’t assume your teen has an adequate support system. Even if they have many friends, it doesn’t mean their friends know any more than they do about grief. Make yourself aware of who, besides yourself, is there for your adolescent. If support is lacking, it may be a good idea to look into community resources, such as peer support groups, grief counseling, or other adults or peers who can help.
You may be grieving, too, and this is understandable. You can’t bury your sorrow any more than your child can, but you can make sure that your teen knows you are processing your grief, that you are still the parent, and that they don’t have to take on an adult role in the family or the home. Help them to feel safe and secure.
There are some signs to watch out for when dealing with an adolescent who has experienced a loss. Some of these are normal signs of grief. You can keep an eye out for behaviors that seem out of the ordinary, though, and be there to intervene. Some of the signs include:
-Deep depression, hopelessness, sleeping all the time, disengaging from activities the teen used to enjoy.
-Isolation from friends and family. Keeping feelings bottled up inside, or denying feelings.
-Self harm behaviors, such as cutting.
-Failure at academics, when the teen was formerly a good student.
-Risk-taking behaviors, like substance abuse or promiscuous sexual activity.
If your instinct is telling you that your teen needs extra support, then be there to intervene and help provide it.
There is no easy way to go through the grieving process, especially for a teenager. Loving someone and going through grief at their loss is an incredibly difficult experience, no matter what the age. Do some reading on the subject, seek out peer support or professional help, and above all, be present for your adolescent during this time. I have included the link to Los Angeles Teen Therapy, run by Marriage and Family Therapist Sandra Dupont, which is one great place to start.
“You have just learned a very hard lesson about life: nothing lasts forever. Humans — all living things — have a limited life span. This isn’t something to be afraid of, but it can be very hard to digest. This is why it is so important to be grateful for the people we love, and tell them so. Give yourself permission and time to grieve. Doing so does not mean you will never smile again.” Sandra Dupont, MA, MS, MFT
Please feel free to add your comments, questions, and suggestions below regarding teenagers and grief.
Our YouTube video on this topic can be found here: http://youtu.be/rUisfi3Mhbo