Teenage Grief

Sunday, 30 January 2022

An adolescent’s grief can be impacted by any number of things including but not limited to, their unique relationship with the individual, how the individual passed away, their support system, past experiences with loss and their own unique strengths and weaknesses when it comes to dealing with stress, adversity, and high emotion.

Developmentally, adolescents are in a time of big physical and emotional changes and may flip back and forth between younger age group type reactions and more adult reactions. Grief can have an impact on the developmental task of moving from dependence to independence, where young people move from family ties to increasing reliance on their peers. The loss of a loved one is difficult at any age, but it can be especially tough for teenagers who are already dealing with the ups and downs of adolescence.

Adolescence is a time when most teenagers just want to fit in. So, when a tragedy sets them apart, it is all the harder. Fortunately, conventional wisdom says the best way to support a grieving adolescent is to be there for them, you can ‘companion’ a teen by supporting them, talking openly and honestly, listening, allowing them to grieve how they want, and allowing them to decide how they will cope (with the exception of self-destructive behaviors).

Although younger teens still have some work to do emotionally and developmentally, older teens (approximately 16-18) who are able to understand complex relationships and other’s points of view, are likely to grieve in a similar way adults do. Just like adults, teens are different from one another and tend to cope in their own unique ways. Some may lash out in an attempt to relieve themselves, while others may cope by staying quiet or using humour.

When supporting an adolescent one should remember:

  • Acknowledge their presence, their importance, their opinions, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Be patient and open minded. Allow them to grieve in their own way.
  • Be available – Sit with the child, listen to them, and answer their questions.
  • Let them know that a range of different emotions is normal.
  • Validate their feelings and do not minimize them.
  • Check in with other adults involved in their life – teachers, school counselors, coaches.
  • Find age-appropriate resources.

Adolescence is a stage in our lives when we have our first experiences with many emotions and reactions. Because of this, it may be difficult for some teens to cope with the loss of a loved one. Paying attention to the needs of the bereaved teen and accompanying them through the grieving process are the most important duties you can perform.

Bereaved adolescents will need ongoing attention, reassurance, and support. It is not unusual for grief to resurface later on, even well after the loss. This can happen as they move through different milestones and develop as individuals. It is important to remember that navigating through grief takes as long as it takes – ongoing love, reassurance and affection is helpful.

If you are worried about how your child is coping, you may want to speak to their doctor, school counselor, or a child psychologist. If they ever express thoughts of harming themselves or others you can seek support 24/7 through Lifeline at 13 11 14. Or see our resources on our Grief Support page.