If your teenager has experienced a loss, you might not know exactly how to help him or her come to terms with it. You already know that everyone experiences grief differently, but teenagers also grieve differently from adults. Where you might expect certain behaviors and emotions from yourself or an adult in your life, those expectations could be misplaced when it comes to your teen. Here is some information on how experiencing grief as a teen vs as an adult differs and tips on how you can help your teen through the grieving process.
Teens Often Have Different Type of Events to Grieve
One consideration to keep in mind is that the types of events that teens grieve can differ from those that adults tend to grieve. This impacts the grieving process.
Romantic Breakups – For example, teens often deeply grieve romantic breakups. While adults also do this, teenagers tend to have more breakups over a shorter period of time than most adults. Whereas adults often move slowly into relationships and would not have a strong reaction to ending a potential relationship after a month or two, teenagers do not have a similar perspective and can take the breakups of a two-week relationship very hard. It’s important to take this seriously.
Death of a Family Member – When it comes to the death of older family members, consider also that while you might be experiencing grief after the loss of your parent, you have probably also lost your grandparents and some other relatives and friends. If your teenager is just now experiencing his or her first loss with the death of your parent, it could hit them very hard.
Death of a Friend – Teens also might lose a friend to an accident, an illness, or a suicide. While losing a friend is painful at any age, it’s particularly tragic and often shocking when it’s a very young person. A teen who loses a friend in an automobile accident, for example, will likely be dealing with strong feelings of shock, denial, and other emotions that an adult losing an adult friend might not experience as strongly.
Teens Can Find It Harder to Express Feelings and Accept Help
Teenagers often feel the need to have others think that everything is under control at all times. This can lead to them not being comfortable expressing feelings of sadness, hurt, or anger. This can be particularly true for boys, who might be under the impression that it’s not cool or manly to show strong feelings. Bottling up their feelings can cause a teen to develop depression, anxiety, and other mental health conditions.
It’s also often hard for teenagers who are experiencing grief to ask for and accept help from their friends. Many are afraid that their friends will mock them for having strong feelings. Others just don’t want their friends to know that they have it all together.
If your teenager is having trouble with his or her grief, a counselor can sometimes help them open up and relieve some of the internal pressure. If he or she won’t open up to you and does not want to talk to a counselor or a therapist, another adult might be able to help. Encourage your teen to talk to a coach, a teacher, or a favorite aunt or uncle. Also, spending time together, even if the goal is not to talk about the loss, can help a teen open up.
Teens Are More Likely to Act Out
One danger that teens might be more likely to encounter than adults are is that experiencing grief can lead to drinking, taking drugs, and other self-destructive behaviors. While this can happen to adults as well, teens can be more susceptible simply because they lack the coping skills that many adults develop over time. As a parent, it’s important that you are vigilant for signs that your teenager is turning to substances to ease his or her pain.
Your teen might also engage in unsafe sex, let his or her grades fall, and engage in other behaviors that seem unrelated to the grieving process. These can also be signs of depression and anxiety, so try to keep the lines of communication open with your teen to help you discern what’s going on. Also, don’t be afraid to take him or her to the doctor for an evaluation if you see signs that worry you.
Teens Might Experience the Stages of Grief Differently
Most people go through some form of the five stages of grief.
1. Denial – The first is shock and denial, and this might be particularly strong for teenagers, particularly when it’s a young, healthy person who died. In addition to denying to themselves that the friend has died, your teen might deny that he or she needs help or is experiencing strong feelings. Your teen might seem to simply go on with life as usual as though nothing has happened, going out with friends and not wanting to talk about the loss.
2. Anger – The second stage is anger. This can manifest in teens in a variety of ways, from disrespect to violent behavior.
3. Bargaining – The third stage, bargaining, could make your teen more spiritual. He or she might want to visit a church or change churches. They might also dabble in spiritual practices that are very different from what they were brought up with.
4. Depression – The fourth stage, depression and sadness, might be hard to see in a teen who is trying hard not to show his or her feelings. Alternatively, your teen might spiral into a deep depression.
5. Acceptance – The last stage, acceptance, might come sooner or later than you might expect from an adult. It’s important to understand that these stages might not occur in order and that grieving is a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process in many cases.
If your teen is experiencing grief, helping him or her deal with it takes patience and, sometimes, a willingness to involve others. Let your son or daughter know that you are there and that you want to help. Don’t be afraid to seek outside assistance from a guidance counselor, a therapist, or a family doctor. With your help, your teen will get through his or her grief and will be able to move on, having developed skills in coping with grief that will benefit them during adulthood.