If a teen in your life is experiencing a death, here are three things you can do to support them. The teenage years are already inherently challenging for most people. When an unexpected life event happens, the impact can be especially challenging to process at this age. Know that this may be, and is likely the teens first time experiencing death and that there are a lot of things that will be very new for them. Many teens have not heard adults talk about grief or experienced meaningful loss before. The newness of the experience at this age will likely be a formative event for them.
Some experiences to watch for:
1. End-of-life rituals
Most teens have not attended a funeral before. Rituals and etiquette may cause a lot of anxiety for teens, especially if they don’t know what to expect or how to act. They will likely also be uncomfortable feeling like they are on stage as everyone watches to see how they are coping.
Prepare the child for what to expect depending on the type of services you are going to have. Include them in the planning. Talk about what, if any, elements they would like to be a part of and what, if any, they can opt out of. The more concise and direct you are about the context and what will happen, the more their anxiety will likely to reduce. Encourage them to ask questions. Be open about the events you care most about and why, as well as the events you find draining.
Share with them your coping skills or any tips you have in engaging in community grieving events. Encourage them to participate, but don’t force them. The teen will likely be worried about their friends and what their friends will think. Allow your teen to take time away from the events to be with their social group. We encourage you to prepare your teen for the varied responses loved ones and friends may have to the death. Some loved ones will ignore it, others will be extremely impacted, some may use humor to cope, and some may feel very awkward. This is ok! Let your teen know their friends may react in all sorts of ways and that if a friend reacts negatively, it doesn’t reflect on them.
For adolescents who have little experience with trauma, death, pain, or stress, this will be the first time they experience the overwhelming emotions related to grief. This can be frightening, and many don’t have the self-awareness to know what types of coping strategies will help.
Normalize the range of emotions grievers are apt to experience. Prepare them for shifts in emotion and give them permission to laugh and feel happy when they feel like it. Help them brainstorm coping strategies such as counseling, journaling, and workbooks, but don’t push. One of the best ways to normalize these intense feelings is to model feeling them yourself. Be transparent and open with your teen about your own emotions and share with them about what emotional support you are using. You can let them know a certain friend, family member, grief group, or therapist is helping you. The teen watching you feel your feelings and process them in a healthy way is one of the best ways for them to know that they will survive these intense experiences.
3. Questions about life’s meaning
Not all teens are ready to ponder life’s complex existential questions, but they are certainly old enough to contemplate ‘why’s and ‘what for’s in the face of death. This may be the first time their worldview, religious views, or sense of immortality has been challenged.
Allow for open dialogue about a life’s philosophical, theological, and logistical questions. Don’t minimize their questions and help them find their own answers. Support them in talking to religious leaders, philosophers, and other deep thinkers if appropriate. Try and remember that while you’ve had years to ponder the meaning of life and death, these are questions they are only just beginning to ask. These questions can be some of the most creative and deep discussions you can have with your teenager. We encourage you to embrace not having all the answers, share openly about your own opinions, and embrace your curiosity about your teenager.
Supporting a teenager who has experienced the death of a loved one is a deeply compassionate and delicate process. It requires patience, empathy, and a willingness to listen without judgment. Understanding that grieving is a unique and individual journey for each teen is paramount. By offering them a safe and non-judgmental space to express their emotions, providing resources for professional help when needed, and involving them in decisions regarding memorializing or commemorating the deceased, we can help them navigate the complexities of grief. Ultimately, our unwavering support can empower them to heal, find solace, and gradually rebuild their lives while cherishing the memories of their loved ones.
How Antelope Recovery Can Support Your Teen’s Grief Journey
At Antelope Recovery, we understand the complexities of grief and its unique impact on adolescents. Our compassionate team is here to provide the guidance and support your teenager may need during this challenging time. We offer specialized counseling and therapeutic services to help them navigate their grief and find healthy ways to cope. If you believe your teenager could benefit from professional support as they heal, please don’t hesitate to reach out to Antelope Recovery. Together, we can assist your family in the journey toward healing, resilience, and hope.