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How to Support a Grieving Teen

Published: February 28, 2022

Grief can bring an adult to their knees. So what about a teenager? For several awkward years, teens are stuck in a middle place where they are no longer a child, but they aren’t adults either. They have to deal with peer pressure, face self esteem issues, and find out who they are and where they fit in in the world. The teen years are difficult enough without adding in the loss of someone close to them.

                                                                                                                                            Teenagers may not have the coping skills many adults have come to develop. Although they understand what death means, they may feel overwhelmed by grief.

For teens experiencing loss, it’s important for them to have caring adults in their life who are emotionally and physically present, there when needed, and able to offer this assurance: it’s okay to feel what you're feeling.

What’s “Normal?”                                                                                                                       

It’s important to know that there really is no such thing as “normal” when it comes to grief. You’ve probably heard that everyone processes grief differently. It’s true. You’ve probably also heard there are different stages of grief, also true, though it’s not a straightforward process where: “Okay, now we’re done with stage one, looks like it’s time to move onto stage two”—it’s more like a rollercoaster ride, with ups and downs, twists and turns, and not really knowing what’s next. Emotions may change from week to week, moment to moment. Let your teen know that whatever they are feeling, it’s normal.

A grieving teen may have outbursts of anger and lash out at family because family is “safe.” They may wear their sadness or keep it hidden. They may feel guilty, wondering if somehow they could have changed the outcome: If I didn’t miss the bus, Mom wouldn’t have had to pick me up and then she wouldn’t have gotten into a car accident. If I had gone over to Grandpa’s like I said I would, I might have been there to call 911 . . . and so on.

After a loss, a teen may also feel guilty when they catch themselves joking around or doing something they enjoy, because their loved one isn’t alive to enjoy life; or because they didn’t get a chance to tell them they loved them before they died; or because they were not on good terms with the loved one right before they passed.

A teen may also worry about other family members and how they’ll be able to handle the loss. They may worry that their memory of the loved one will fade. They may wonder how their family is going to make it now that the breadwinner is gone.

The adults in a teenager’s life may be unaware the teen is experiencing these sorts of thoughts, as they may appear fine on the surface. It’s important to never assume how a teen may be feeling.

Supporting a Grieving Teen

You can be supportive by understanding the range of emotions they may be experiencing and that everyone handles grief in their own way. It’s important to ask questions about how your teen is feeling and be ready to actively listen and not downplay their emotions or say they are being “dramatic.”

If your teen doesn’t want to talk, do not force them, but you may wish to offer healthy outlets for their strong emotions. This could be through journaling, painting, or writing a letter to the departed loved one. The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families offers a wealth of resources for teens, including ideas for honoring and remembering a loved one, podcasts, videos, and writing prompts.

If your teen is unwilling to open up to you, maybe there is someone else they might feel more comfortable talking with, like a pastor, school counselor, or another family member, relative, or friend. If they are feeling angry, you could encourage them to go running, go for a walk, a bike ride, or some other physical activity—and offer to join them.

Most of all, it’s just important for you to be there for them physically and emotionally—to be available should they need you, to offer hugs and words of encouragement and to let them know that grief doesn’t go away, but that it does become more manageable over time. Let them know that the memories of the loved one they are missing won’t always make them sad to this degree, and that the memories will eventually morph into happy little remembrances. You’ll also want to let your teen know that it's perfectly normal to feel okay one minute, but not the next.

Grief isn’t something to be cured. It’s something we learn to carry with us, until one day it doesn’t hurt as much and the happy memories can also have a spot at the table; along with just being there for a grieving teen, it is very important to pass along this message to them, as teens often struggle to see past the moment at hand.

When to Reach Out For Help

If your teen continues to struggle and you’ve noticed some risky behavior, extra support may be needed. Maybe they’ve started drinking, doing drugs, letting their grades slip, dropped out of their extracurricular activities, are staying out past curfew, or are just always in a slump.

If you suspect or know your teen is involved in risky behavior, consider seeking outside help for them. A support group where they can share feelings with others also experiencing loss, individual therapy, or help from a pastor are some options. If your teen is reluctant to get in-person help, they might be more open to online support groups, which can be found through such avenues as Facebook.

If you ever believe your teen may harm themself, please take it seriously. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline and the Neighborhood House of Long Island may be able to offer some guidance.

You can reach us, Raynor & D’Andrea Funeral Home, anytime at 800-737-0017. Thank you for reading our blog.

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