Understanding and Supporting Grieving Teens

Teen sitting sadly alone in her room

Being a teenager is hard enough as it is – there are big exams, tough classes, peer pressure, romantic and social issues, friendships, bullying…the list goes on. It seems silly as you get older but, remember, there once was a time when a person not inviting you to hang out was enough to warrant a pint of ice cream and a good cry.

Grief is a confusing and emotional process, and being a teenager is a confusing and emotional time. Combine the two, and you’re soon navigating an emotional minefield. As a parent or guardian, you want to help your child in any way possible. Unfortunately, there isn’t a quick fix for things like this. However, our tips, combined with our services, can certainly help to alleviate their aching heart.

Understanding Teenagers

Between school, preparing for college, extracurriculars, family obligations, and social time, teens often operate with a full schedule, meaning they may not have the time to begin properly processing their grief. Even if they are pulled out of school for a few days to attend any services or burials, they may be focused on (and anxious about) what they’ll return to, be it a backlog of work or questions and attention from teachers and peers.

On top of this, teens frequently use social media which can impact grief. While it may provide an outlet for them to honor the memory of their loved ones, it may also trigger their grief to see people celebrate milestones with their loved ones that are still alive.

Teenage Emotions

The absence of a loved one during crucial teenage milestones heightens feelings of grief. For example, typically, there is a build-up of emotions before prom dress shopping, such as excitement, and maybe anxiety about finding the right dress. But if the teen is grieving the loss of a loved one who would have been there with them, their emotions building up to the event could look like any of the following:

  • A Preoccupation with Anticipating Emotions: The teen may have amplified anxiety because they don’t know how they’ll react. The days leading up might be filled with thoughts like “What if I cry? What if I should be crying, but I don’t?”
  • Dread: The feeling of dread may cause sentiments like “What’s the point if my loved one isn’t there?” Which can lead to the teen wanting to avoid events altogether.
  • Shutting Down: Some teens shut down when emotions get too overwhelming. This can result in them expressing their grief explosively when their emotions eventually boil over.
  • Guilt: If they are happy, they might feel shame and guilt for being happy, thinking, “How can I be happy when my loved one isn’t here?” Or, if they feel sad about something (like not finding a prom dress), they may feel a sentiment of “Why is this making me sad? I just lost someone important to me- I should be focusing on that.”

Of course, these are broad examples, but it’s typical for teens to fall into one or more of the above. 

Helping Teens Navigate Their Grief

With the above in mind, there are a few ways you can help.

  • Validate Their Emotions 

Teens go through so much as it is, and even a gentle reminder of “It’s okay to be upset about anything­, not just loss,” can help them feel more comfortable.

  • Be Open with Them

The cliché of teens saying, “Nobody gets me!” is a cliché for a reason- it’s a sentiment that every teen feels. If you’ve experienced loss, have an open conversation with them about it. Though that sentiment may not go away, knowing someone else has been in their situation can help them feel understood.

  • Provide Them With Resources 

While it’s important to foster a space where your child can openly talk about their emotions, it’s also important to respect their wishes if they want to navigate their emotions introspectively. A great way to let them know you support them is to gather and provide them with resources. Doing this allows them to understand their options and choose the route they want to take.

If your teen isn’t receptive to emotional conversations, try leaving a thoughtful note (and maybe their favorite snack!) alongside any gathered resources on their bed.

Suggest Counseling

Outside of your help, another proven way to help is counseling. Some feel more comfortable in one-on-one counseling, while others may find the shared experiences in a group counseling setting comforting.

While any counseling is beneficial, teenagers can especially benefit from faith-based counseling, Teenagers can especially benefit from faith-based counseling which offers discussions about the spiritual pain they may be experiencing after their loss.

At Spiritual Care Support Ministries, our faith-based counseling is non-denominational. We understand the unique challenges of grief, and accept those from all walks of life with open arms and listening ears. To inquire about any of our resources and services, please visit our Contact Us page or call us at 540-349-5814.

Questions & Comments

If you would like to ask questions or have comments regarding this blog post,
please feel free to call me at 540-349-5814 or email me at chaplainliz@scsm.tv