of a loved one is an issue than many teens deal with
every year. When a family member, close friend or peer
dies, teens experience a loss that will be a part of
their lives forever.
Adolescent years can be inherently difficult. These
young people are in a phase of their lives when they
are no longer children, but not yet adults. They have
many of the responsibilities of adulthood, but lack
many of the privileges. Their lives are in constant
change as they begin the process of separating from
their parents. In many ways, teens are pushing their
parents away in an effort to take some risks at independence.
If a teen loses a parent or caretaker during this period
in their life, the teen is often left with a sense of
guilt that will complicate the normal mourning.
Similarly, the loss of a sibling may create some feelings
of guilt over normal sibling interactions that may have
been affected by competition or rivalry. The loss of
a close friend may create complicated feelings of guilt
over academic competition, envy, or normal peer conflict.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the loss,
adolescents need support to get them through. Because
many adolescents appear physically mature, those around
them make the mistake of thinking that they have the
emotional maturity of an adult, and treat them as such.
They are expected to “be strong” and “take
care of the family.” Unfortunately, when a teen
is given such a responsibility, they miss out on the
opportunity to grieve, which may have harmful consequences
The way a parent reacts to the death of a family member
will have a great impact on the coping of their adolescent
son or daughter. With the best intentions, many parents
are too caught up in their own grief to be aware of
how their teen is dealing with the loss. Often parents
make the mistake of not talking to their teen about
the loss that they have experienced. The belief is that
in doing so, he or she will experience less sadness.
The reality, however, is that teens suffer more from
feelings of isolation than from the actual death itself.
They may also believe that they are the only ones grieving
and feel that their feelings are not validated.
Healthy grieving is important for a teenager. Signs
of unhealthy grieving may include changes in eating
and sleeping patterns, disinterest or decline in academic
performance, change in peer or family relationships,
increase in risk taking behaviors, or denial of pain
and an appearance of being overly strong.
To support teens through the grieving process, parents
can help by giving their teen permission to grieve by
talking about the loss, sharing personal feelings to
help normalize theirs, and confirming that it is all
right to be sad and feel the emotions that they feel.
As the anniversary of the loss of a friend or loved
one approaches, it is important to be aware that teens,
not unlike adults, may begin to re-experience the feelings
originally associated with the loss. Their reaction
to the anniversary date may be similar to the way they
reacted when the loss originally occurred, and what
they need from those around them may be similar to their
needs when the loss occurred. It is important for parents
to be aware that these dates may trigger an emotional
reaction and be prepared to be available for their teen.
If you find that your teen is having difficulty coping
with the loss of a loved one, there are many services
available at their school as well as in the community.
Adolescent Counseling Services (ACS) has therapists
on your teen’s campus to help him or her cope
with loss. We also have access to outside resources
to help parents get through difficult times.