If you’re helping a teenager who’s experiencing grief, you may be helping someone having their first encounter with death. Teens view and deal with loss, but there is no manual on how to deal with grief. Each person experiences a number of emotions during the healing process. Adolescence is usually a time when we first experience loss.
Young adults have a basic understanding of what death is. They lack, however, the experience, coping skills, and the fully formed empathetic brain of an adult. Bereavement is a difficult time for anyone. Teens are already experiencing a whirlwind of emotion, transition, and change, so it is exceptionally difficult for them to cope with a loss.
How Teens Process Grief
Just like every person processes grief differently, so will every teen. Processing grief takes a lot of energy. It’s a tiring experience, and they need your support through this difficult time now more than ever.
Adolescents already experience a significant lack of control. The death of a loved one will amplify this feeling of being out of control. For bereaved teens, regardless of whether the loss is a parent, sibling, or peer, this is devastating. Amid so much change, it’s reasonable for a teenager to act out or lash out because of overwhelming emotional stress.
This is a call for attention. It may not read clearly as, “Please help me, I don’t understand how to process this.” It may show itself as misbehavior at school, disrespectfulness at home, or a complete withdrawal from family and friends. Now is not the time to isolate your teen or let them isolate themselves. They need support and nurturing to heal.
As onlooking adults, seeing a teen have an existential crisis may seem out of place. After all, how can you have an existential crisis after barely a decade of existence? Don’t shove this off, though. A grieving teen is bound to question their understanding of the world. This questioning may come up against your faith or how they feel life operates.
Remember to be open to their opinions and thoughts, even if you disagree. They’re thinking things through and trying to adapt their understanding of the world to this new loss and all the emotions that come with it. Now is not the time to berate your teen about their lack of experience or where their faith lies. This is a time to listen and support them in a time of need.
It’s a popular reaction in bereaving teens to reject support from family and friends. They’re learning to be independent humans, separate from their parents. They might be under the misunderstanding that growing up means being less vulnerable. This urge to be independent usually results in general answers to how they’re doing like “I’m fine,” or “I’m okay.”
Look beyond these generalized responses and ask deeper, open-ended questions. Let them see you struggle with grief. It’s always okay to be vulnerable in front of your teen, but now it’s imperative. They need to understand that these emotions are normal and that they are not alone.
Get help Together
Whenever your teen is already feeling out of control, isolated, and confused, it’s hard to see a way forward. Understand that you can seek help together.
It’s proven that the help of a professional therapist helps people find a healthy road to healing. Consider enrolling in grief counseling with your teen. If they’re not receptive to group therapy, encourage them to see a counselor independently for teen sessions. If they’re still reluctant, let them see you setting up your own therapy appointment. Teach them that it’s okay to prioritize their mental health.