How Teens Grieve Differently Than Adults
If a teenager who you love recently experienced loss, you know how hard it is to watch them struggle with grief. You may feel helpless and wish there was an easy way to take the pain away. Although the sadness may last a long time and the road to recovery is not easy, you can help your teenager through the grieving process.
The first step in helping your grieving teen is understanding how their process may differ from your own. Adolescence is difficult at the best of times, and those struggles make teen grief particularly complex. While younger siblings may not comprehend enough to feel the full weight of death and adults may have some healthy coping mechanisms, teenagers do not have either of these factors working in their favor.
Furthermore, teens naturally explore the limits of their independence. So, when they experience loss, they may pull away from adults who can help rather than rely on them for help. While some alone time is perfectly healthy, teens who go into social isolation after a loss may struggle with this.
Teenagers also desperately need to fit into their social groups. In an effort to not feel like an outcast, your teen may refrain from talking about their grief with friends. Without an outlet, these feelings bubble up and cause more issues. For example, some kids turn to drugs and alcohol to numb the pain that they do not want to show.
How to Help a Grieving Teenager
The good news is that you can help your teenager cope with loss in healthy ways. While you cannot process the feelings for them, you can guide them on their path. The things you teach during this time will help them during all the difficult times in their lives as well. Try a few of these strategies:
- Check Your Own Feelings: Before you can effectively help your teen, it’s important to understand your own feelings about the situation. You may also grieve the loss, feel afraid for your teen, or even feel angry that this happened.
- Start the Conversation: Once you understand your emotions, you can open a dialogue with your teen about them. Try openly discussing your feelings, which models this behavior and makes it safe for your teen to do the same. Do not force them to talk, as this can backfire. Instead, just give them the opportunity.
- Be There: If you try to reach out to your teen and get silence in return, you may feel tempted to walk out of the room. You may even think you’re making things worse, but you’re not. If they don’t want to talk right now, just sit together in the silence. Offer a hug or hand to hold if they need it. Sometimes, just knowing that you are there and accept their feelings is enough.
- Make Room for Happiness: It’s natural for people of all ages to feel afraid of happiness after a loss. Let your teen know that finding happiness in their days does not hurt the memory of the person who passed. Perhaps the deceased would want them to feel happy and they can do so by talking about fond memories with that person.
- Grieve Together: One way you can let your teen know that you’re in this together is to do some healthy coping mechanisms side-by-side. Whether you share memories of the person who passed, write down your feelings in secret journals, or enjoy family movie nights together, you can let them know that they are not alone.
Know When to Get Professional Help
While all of these strategies for helping teens cope can make differences, they may not always be enough. Some people, including teenagers and children, need counselors and therapists to work through their grief.
If your child mentions thoughts of committing suicide of fantasizes about death, take them to the nearest emergency room immediately.
A teen can need professional guidance without these thoughts, however. You should consider seeking help if:
- Your child shows the signs of depression, anxiety, or PTSD
- Your teen witnessed a violent death or accident
- You could use help talking about the loss with your teen
- Your teen experiences panic attacks or develops new phobias
If you feel like a counselor could help your family, don’t be afraid to reach out. You do not have to have a mental illness to benefit from counseling. Some professionals specialize in grief. If your teenager or anyone in your family needs help coping with loss, contact LifeStance Health today.