Teens Grieve Differently: What You Need to Know
Teenagers are in a time of transition between adulthood and childhood as they gain skills to navigate academic responsibilities, peer relationships and changing family roles. When a significant loss occurs, teens can sometimes react in ways that are surprising to adults.
Because of the developmental challenges that teens are already experiencing, it is important for adult family members to recognize that teens may need a different type of support than younger children.
Key Ideas in Supporting Teens through Grief
- Offer opportunities to share feelings.
Teens may not always feel like talking about the loss, but it can be reassuring when adults give them an opening to discuss their experience. In particular, teens may need to express grief about “what might have been” and the upcoming milestones that will be different after this loss, such as high school graduation. You can encourage your teen to find other ways to express their thoughts and emotions, such as writing in a journal, drawing or talking to a trusted friend.
- Be affectionate.
Teens may seem to reject any affection from family members, such as hugs or nicknames— especially in public or in front of peers. Your teen may want to feel close to you in a time of loss, yet feel embarrassed about this need. It is up to the adult to make a gesture by offering a hug or saying, “I love you.” Some family members may choose to occasionally text their teen a simple message: “Thinking of you, hope you’re having a good day at school.”
- Invite input into family grief decisions.
Offer your teen a choice about attending or contributing to the memorial service. Teens frequently prefer to have a vote in other significant family decisions about the loss, such as how to mark the first anniversary of a death.
When Does My Teen Need Grief Support?
Grief counseling may be recommended in some loss situations, such as:
- Unexpected death and/or a loss that the teen experiences as traumatic.
- Complicating factors such as addiction, mental illness or ongoing family conflict.
- A loss that triggered major life changes, such as moving or financial hardship.
- The need to resolve a difficult or inconsistent relationship with the person who died.
- Multiple recent deaths or other significant losses.
Please seek professional help if your teen seems to be exhibiting warning signs of mental health concerns, such as a sudden personality change, loss of interest in favorite activities, extreme irritability, frequent tearfulness, persistent sadness or hopelessness and/or suicidal thoughts.
Kids Path Can Help with Teen Grief Support
The Kids Path program provides individual counseling for children and teens through age 18, in addition to support groups and events where teens can meet peers who have also experienced loss.
Our licensed counselors are available to consult with parents or caregivers about the best way to support your teen in coping with death or serious illness.
Call 336.544.5437 and ask to speak with any counselor.