Clinically Edited & Approved by: Candace Giles, M.D.
How Loss Affects Teens
As a parent, you want to protect your child from some of the hardest things in life. However, if your teen’s loved one or friend passes away, it can feel impossible to help. While you cannot take away the pain of losing someone important, you can help your teen process these difficult emotions.
First, you must understand how your teen feels. Even if you are grieving the same loss or have gone through something similar, you may not know exactly what it’s like to be in their shoes. Teens often experience grief in different ways than adults and younger children.
How Grief Appears in Teens
In adolescence, people are old enough to understand the impact of death but may not have the coping mechanisms to deal with the strong emotions they feel. Furthermore, when teens lose people they love, it often comes suddenly and tragically. After all, their peers are most likely to die from accidents, suicide, and homicide. Mourning lives lost in these events is quite different from grieving the loss of someone who was sick for years.
Teens also struggle with finding the right amount of independence. Therefore, some teens resist asking for help from the adults in their lives. In an attempt to appear “normal” to their friends, they may hide their feelings, which means they do not process their feelings in healthy ways. In turn, they can start coping with grief in destructive ways, such as abusing drugs and alcohol.
How Caregivers Can Help Grieving Teens
As you watch your teen struggle with loss and grief, you may think of nothing but how you can help. You may wish you could wave a magic wand and take the pain away. While it’s not that simple, you can use proven strategies to help them grieve in healthy ways:
Some parents understandably feel so afraid of saying the wrong thing that they say nothing at all. Try to avoid giving into this fear. Open the lines of communication as soon and as often as you can. If your teen doesn’t want to talk at that moment, be sure they know that they can come to you whenever they need to chat.
Don’t Force Them to Talk
While it is vital to keep communication open with your grieving teen, it’s equally important to embrace their silence. Just because your teen isn’t speaking up doesn’t mean they want you to leave. Sit in the silence, offer a comforting presence, and give them room to talk if they decide to do so.
Check Your Own Emotions
Understanding your own feelings and talking about them openly models health behavior for your teen, especially if you’re grieving as well. For example, if you act happy in front of your teen, they may think that they should do the same. However, if you open up about how much you miss the person, they may feel ready to do the same.
Participate in Healthy Coping Together
It’s possible that your teen does not know how to deal with the sadness and anger that death can bring. Encourage healthy coping mechanisms by doing them together. Consider writing letters to the person who passed together. They don’t have to read them aloud, just write to get the feelings out.
Children, teens, and even adults sometimes feel as though they are “not allowed” or “not supposed” to feel any happiness as they mourn. Laughing, smiling, or relaxing can feel like an affront to the memory of the deceased. Remind your teen that their loved one would want them to be happy and that it’s perfectly natural to talk about good memories with that person.
Know When to Get Help
Sometimes the feelings surrounding grief are so strong and long-lasting that people need professional help moving forward. This is true for children, teens, and adults. Reaching out to a counselor does not make you a failure as a parent. In fact, it means that you’re willing to do what it takes to help your child.
If your teen has thoughts of suicide, take them to the nearest emergency room immediately.
If your teen shows any of the following signs, you should consider counseling:
- Abusing alcohol and drugs
- Signs of depression
- Flashbacks about the death
- New anxieties
- Panic attacks
- Disordered eating
Your teen does not need to show any of these signs to benefit from counseling. Sometimes, just have a neutral third-party to talk to can help people process grief. If you believe anyone in your family could use short-term or long-term therapy, contact a Georgia therapist near you today.