Helping Grieving Teens

Helping Grieving Teens

Some ideas to consider for teachers, parents and other professionals working with young people who have experienced a loss.

There is no “correct” way to grieve

Some teens cry lots. Some cry infrequently. Some teens feel angry. Some don’t. Some teens feel guilty, others don’t. Some teenagers want life to be “back to normal” ASAP, some don’t want life to go on as usual. All of these coping mechanisms are usually okay.
Sometimes teenagers don’t want to talk

This doesn’t necessarily mean a teenager “is not coping”. Teenagers are less prone to analysis and self-introspection and often don’t want to have lots of conversations about how they are feeling, thinking and acting.   This is generally okay.
Encourage teens to ask questions if they want to

Teenagers should be given regular opportunities to ask any questions they have about death, grieving, the accident/death, how others are coping and other relevant topics.   We should make time and space for this to happen. Sometimes they have no questions. That is okay too.
Teens need long lasting, but non-intrusive support

Being available for teens when they need to talk, in an ongoing way, is most useful. Reminding teens that we care for them, giving them opportunities to talk (you can come to my office/ring my mobile when you need to) and regularly “checking in” on teens over a period of months is more useful than intensive attention over a period of weeks.
Provide grief education

It is useful for all members of a grieving teenagers community (the teen themselves, friends of the teen, teachers, parents and so on) to be informed about the kinds of emotions, behaviours and experiences common in grieving young people.   This might occur for the teenager via a few sessions with a psychologist. Teachers should be given the opportunity for professional development in this area, and students should have some grief information presented to them through lessons/newsletters or some other medium.
It helps for teenagers to keep living life

We want to very gently encourage grieving teenagers to continue to be involved in regular activities. Going to school, playing sport, socialising and doing part time work are all important activities for teenagers to continue even while grieving. This doesn’t mean grieving teens can’t take a break from life when they need to, but it does mean that continuing to “live life” is a better long term strategy than withdrawal.
Understand that grief is an exhausting process, a kind of inner “work”

Grieving teenagers are often exhausted, have less energy, motivation and concentration skills than others.   Without recommending a complete “withdrawal” (see above) some teens therefore might need to slightly change their lifestyle in order to cope (i.e dropping one school subject, slightly reducing part time job hours, getting more sleep). 
Make allowances for grieving teenagers but still provide boundaries

We should provide a high level care for grieving teenagers and be exceptionally understanding of their sorrow and pain. However, grieving teenagers still need boundaries. Allowing grieving teens to “get away with” violent, inconsiderate or extremely rude behaviour only hurts them further in the long run.
Danger Signs

As mentioned, teens cope in many ways with grief and there is no single “right” way. However there are a few danger signs which usually signal the need for additional help. These include: drug and alcohol abuse, talking about suicide, withdrawal from school, friends and family, excessive crying every or most day, ongoing “hyper” behaviour every or most days, or if any other person close to the teen is very worried about them.
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