How Teens Grieve
Connie Owens, nurse, writer and grief specialist shares ideas for helping teenagers when they have experienced the death of a friend or loved one. These practical tips can help you work together as a family to help your teen travel the grief journey and grow through the process.
by Connie Owens
Teens want more help than they ask for
Being a teenager is difficult enough. But when death enters a teen’s life, things only get more complicated. No longer a child and not yet an adult, your teen now faces a scary, confusing situation. For young people who have not been taught about death or have never visited a funeral home, this can be overwhelming.
When a beloved grandparent or family member dies, your teen will usually accept the loving support of your family and freely express emotions within your circle. However, when a friend of your teen dies, your child is surrounded by a host of young people who are as wounded and confused as he or she is. Suddenly, the concerns and gestures that you offer as a parent may be rejected. Most likely, your teen will turn to friends instead.
You want to show great patience, realizing that young people have a wonderful support system among themselves and are very sensitive to one another. You want to be aware that your teen may be emotionally vulnerable even though suppressing his or her feelings in order to appear in control. You can reassure your teen that these feelings are normal, and remind him or her that each person grieves differently. Your teen will observe these differences among friends at school, so it will help to understand them.
Even though teens may reject it at times, they need constant reminders of the security of parents’ love. It is important that you maintain open communication and allow your teen to openly express his or her feelings. It’s also important that you touch and hold your teen, who desperately needs that comfort, even if the teen is unable to express that need to you.
Offer ways for your teen to release anger, sadness, and helplessness. Encourage physical activity, such as playing basketball, swimming, walking, etc. Encourage your child to punch a pillow or punching bag to help release anger. Your child might also express feelings well by writing in a journal or drawing a picture. Teens often enjoy making a scrapbook or a collage of pictures, and often want to create some type of memorial in honor of their friend who has died.
As challenging as it may be to assist a teen in grief, your loving support can help your emotionally fragile child grow, as well as deter him or her from trying to numb their pain through alcohol or drugs.