Teens and Grief
Whether they display it or not, a cluster of emotions such as sadness, anger, guilt, frustration, fear, anxiety, or apathy may occur when a teen has experienced a loss. Grieving is the process of experiencing the physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual responses to loss or the perception of loss. The grief that teens experience often comes suddenly and unexpectedly. A parent may die of a sudden heart attack, a brother or sister may be killed in an auto accident, or a friend may commit suicide. The very nature of these deaths often results in a prolonged and heightened sense of unreality. If adults are open, honest and loving, experiencing the loss of someone loved can be a chance for young people to learn about both the joy and pain that comes from caring deeply for others.
TEEN RESPONSE TO LOSS:
In the teenage years, people are in the process of examining the values and beliefs they learned as children and then defining their own values and beliefs. They are struggling with the questions: "Who am I?", "How does the world work and what is my place in it?" This is often seen as their pushing away or “rebelling”. It is a natural and normal part of development.
Coping with a death and experiencing grief during this stage of development can cause further challenges in struggling with these questions because they are torn between wanting to be independent and needing support from their parents and family. Consequently, teens' feelings about death and loss may be conflicting and very intense.
Because of this need for independence, teens turn to their peers for grief support and understanding. When teens are grieving, they may not be able to find help within their own circle. Teens may also try to hide their grief because they don't want to be pitied or viewed as weak, emotional, or as being different. The experience of grief increases a teen’s sense of isolation.
TEENS THAT ARE GRIEVING AND COPING WITH DEATH CAN BE HELPED BY:
- Communicating with a person or group of people their own age who are also grieving and can understand and share their experience
- Being encouraged, and have permission, to feel and think whatever comes up for them
- Understanding that grieving is a natural healing process that takes time
- Caring adults, whether parents, teachers, counselors or friends, can help teens during this time
WARNING SIGNS OF TEEN GRIEF:
- lack of concentration often seen in declining grades
- loss of interest in usual activities
- over-activity, acting too busy (trying to block out the pain)
- wanting to be alone all the time
- deep sadness
- drug and/or alcohol use
- eating too much or not at all
- risk-taking behaviors
- thinking about attempting suicide
If these signs persist, professional counseling may be needed.