Understanding And Supporting The Grieving Teen
If you know a teen who is grieving a death, you may wonder what responses or behaviors you can expect to see and how to help.
Grief is a holistic experience
Grief can affect teens in many different ways: emotionally, behaviorally, cognitively, physically, and spiritually. The following are examples of how grief might look in these realms. Keep in mind that this list is just a sample of the indicators:
Emotional: Every emotion imaginable can be associated with grief. The most common ones include sadness, anger, confusion, fear, agitation, depression, relief, apathy, joy, restless, guilt, regret, irritability, yearning, increased appreciation, and gratitude.
Behavioral: Dropping activities/hobbies, difficulty sleeping, clingy behavior, regressions, aggression, withdrawal, nightmares, diminished/increased performance at work or school, decrease/increase in social engagement, substance use, over-planning/scheduling of activities.
Cognitive: Difficulty concentrating/confused thinking, forgetfulness, difficulty completing tasks, memory loss, narrowed scope of thinking, intrusive/repetitive thoughts, easily overwhelmed.
Physical: Loss of appetite, weight loss/gain, increased frequency of colds/flu, stomachaches, headaches, and nausea.
Spiritual: Questioning or loss of faith, anger at God or other higher power, strengthening of faith, questioning values, rethinking the meaning of life and/purpose.
So what does this look like in day to day life?
Needs of Grieving Teens and Ways to Support Them
For more info, see our guidebook, Helping Teens Cope with Death, or the DVD Helping Teens Cope with Death.
Where did everyone go? How grief affects connections with family and friends.
This episode grew out of a few questions from the community –
Grief affects our connections with others in many ways. Loss can foster a greater closeness with family and friends and it can also wreak havoc on existing relationships, leaving people unsure and disappointed. Many factors contribute to changes in relationships, particularly the role that the person who died played in your family and friend constellation. For some grieving people, especially children and teens, it can feel more comfortable talking with those they aren’t close to, including those who didn’t know the person who died.
Suggestions for ways to make it easier to talk about the person who died in your family:
Valentine's Day is one of the many holidays that shift and change while grieving. As with so many other holidays, the lead-up can be really hard. Advertisements and casual conversations about plans can leave grieving people left out, or eager to flee.
In this episode of Grief Out Loud, Jana and Brendon talk about strategies for approaching Valentine's Day in a way that opens up space to express love and appreciation.
Some ideas mentioned in this episode:
Whatever you decide, go easy on yourself. There can be so much pressure, both internal and external to think or feel a certain way. Know that it's okay to feel whatever you feel (sadness, anger, numbness, irritation, etc), leading up to and on the actual day.
Alternatives to “I’m sorry for your loss.”
This episode delves into that moment when you find out about a death. Most of us don’t know what to say or do, so we go turn to what we’ve heard others say in a similar situation, “I’m sorry for your loss.” While there’s nothing wrong with those words, especially when said with authenticity and full presence, it’s helpful to know how that phrase affects those who are grieving and what you can say instead. Whether it’s getting a phone call with the news, writing out a sympathy card, or learning about a loss during a casual conversation, everyone encounters the dilemma of what to say and how to communicate we care.
“I was so sad when I heard the news about your mom’s death.”
With children and teens, they appreciate an honest: “That totally sucks.”
If you do go with “I’m sorry” expanding it to “I’m so sorry you have to go through this,” or “I’m so sorry this is happening.” can break up the monotony of “I’m sorry for your loss.”
If you’re talking with someone, try reflecting back what they’ve said, allowing them to say more:
“Your dad just died last night.”
“Today’s the anniversary of your sister’s death.”
When writing a sympathy card or email:
Consider sharing a specific memory of the person who died: “I remember so clearly your mom’s smile, it made me feel so welcome.”