Teens And Grief
By: Judith Wimpee
Teens, under normal circumstances, are dealing with many changes due to raging hormones and searching for their own identities. Therefore, it is no wonder that dealing with the death of a sibling, parent, or friend from school can throw their lives into even more chaos and confusion.
Teens are not prepared for the death of someone they care about and how it will effect them. In their world, "only old people die." In their world they are invincible and immortal as are all those close to them. That is why it is not uncommon for teens to go around "dazed" with shock and disbelief when someone close to them dies.
Teens go through the grief process with many of the same emotions as anyone else: sadness, denial, depression, and confusion. However, teens are also unique in their grief. Teens often feel a more intense sense of helplessness and lack of control. They often ask "Why?" or think "If only…" They often are experiencing feelings that are new and confusing for them.
Boys are especially vulnerable to complication from grief because they have been socialized to be tough. They may resist showing or feeling their sadness because it will make them appear weak. Boys often display anger rather than sadness because not only is it less painful, it's an emotion that they're more familiar with.
There are things that can be done to help teens through their grief process. First, reassure them that the feelings they are having are normal. Encourage teens to express those feelings. This can often be done through a support group at school or church, as well as with family and friends.
It is important to find a way to commemorate the life and memory of the deceased. Writing letters to the deceased or making a memory box can be a way to do this. Help teens find healthy coping skills for their grief. It is also important for teens to return to their normal routine of life, even though that routine will have intermittent bouts of grief and, possibly even, survivor guilt.
There are warning signs that a teen is not coping with their grief and may need additional support or help. These signs include having difficulty sleeping, losing interest in friends or school, becoming more aggressive and acting out, talk of suicide, or beginning to use alcohol or drugs to numb the pain. Parents and school personnel need to be aware of these signs and take action.
A first step can be to get counseling for your teen. School counselors, family doctors, or pastors often know of counselors who specialize in grief therapy and can help your teen through this difficult time. Don't assume your teen will "get over it" on their own when the above behaviors occur. These are clear indications that your teen is not able to cope with the pain and loss on their own. Help them through this difficult time by getting them counseling and offering your support.
Additionally, it is important to be aware that there are times that may be especially difficult for your teen and their grief. Studies show that about three months after the death, the anniversary of the death, and special occasion like holidays or proms and graduations can be particularly painful. Be there to acknowledge your teens' pain and loss, the change in their lives, and the sadness. Reassure them that, although, this is very difficult, it is normal, it is a process, and, that in time, the pain will subside.
Judith Wimpee, MA is a psychotherapist serving the Highlands Ranch, Littleton and South Denver, Colorado area. She specializes in grief and loss therapy. Grief and loss can occur from divorce, job loss, moving, and children leaving home as well as death. She can be contacted at 303-595-5454 or at JWimpeeMA@aol.com.