Teen Grief and Loss

For teens, grieving the loss of a loved one can be especially challenging because adolescents are still maturing mentally and emotionally.  The teen years are already difficult enough alone without the challenge of the loss of a loved one. Anger, sadness, withdrawal, guilt and anxiety are common effects grief can have on teens.  The grieving process takes time and healing usually happens gradually. The intensity of grief may be related to how sudden or predictable the loss was and how the teen felt about the person who died.  Family Bootcamp can serve as a chance for a teen to gain new perspective on life after the loss of a loved one. 

Family Bootcamp provides the following insights for parents who are helping a teen to learn to deal with grief and loss:

The grieving process is unique for each person.  Teens grieve for different lengths of time and express a wide spectrum of emotions.  For some teens, sadness, depression, anger and crying may be a form of grief, while others may respond with humor and laughter.

There are no “right” and “wrong” ways to grieve.  Coping with a death or loss does not follow a simple pattern or set of rules so it important to not conclude that the way one teen grieves is better or worse than another.

 Grief is a natural reaction to a death and loss.  Often, grieving does not feel natural because it may be difficult to control the emotions and feelings associated with a death. The sense of being out of control that is often a part of grief may overwhelm or frighten some teens. Grieving is normal and healthy, yet may be an experience teens resist and reject.

Teen Help for Grief and Loss

There are, however, “helpful” and “unhelpful” choices and behaviors associated with the grieving process. Some behaviors are positive and assist in facing grief, such as talking with trusted friends, journaling, experiential therapy, and expressing emotion rather than holding it inside. Other grief responses are negative and may cause long-term problems and consequences. For example, some teens attempt to escape their pain through many of the same escape routes adults choose: alcohol and substance abuse, reckless sexual activity, antisocial behaviors, withdrawal from social activities, excessive sleeping, high risk-taking behaviors, and other methods that temporarily numb the pain of their loss and help to simply avoid the reality of the loss.

Every death is unique and is experienced differently. The way teens grieve differs according to personality and the particular relationship they had with the deceased. They typically react in different ways to the death of a parent, sibling, grandparent, child, or friend. For many teens, peer relationships are primary. The death or loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend may seem to affect them more than the death of a sibling or grandparent.

Even within a family, each member will likely mourn differently.  One may be talkative, another may tend to cry often, and a third might remain silent and guarded. This can generate a great deal of tension and misunderstanding within the already stressed family. Each person’s responses to death should be honored as his or her way of coping in that moment. Keep in mind that responses may change from day to day or even from hour to hour.

Lastly, keep in mind that grief is ongoing.  The reality is that grief never ends, but it does change in character and intensity.  With time and perspective, teens can learn to manage the emotions that accompany death and loss and effectively move forward in their lives.


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