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How to Support Grieving Adolescents

01 February 2024

The passing of a loved one is a challenging time for adults, but it can be extra tough for teens who may still be developing appropriate coping skills or are experiencing death for the first time. Just like adults, grieving adolescents experience their own unique grief journey, which means there is no one easy answer on how to support them through loss.

Fortunately, a good first step is to simply be there. This can involve providing support, such as being available for open and honest conversation, listening to them and giving them the space to grieve in a way that feels right.

Taking the time to understand the different ways teens may grieve is also useful. Knowing what you might expect can prepare you for difficult conversations and challenging behaviour. With that in mind, we’ve gathered a range of ideas and information on grieving adolescents to help you provide support whilst also caring for yourself.

Stages of Grief for Teenagers

Most adolescents understand the concept of death but may not yet have the coping skills of an adult. According to Grief Australia, for this age group, responses to death and dying can include:

  • Shock and disbelief – This stage can be stronger for teenagers, especially if the death is unexpected.
  • Anger – Boundary pushing, disrespect and fighting are ways this emotion can manifest.
  • Anxiety or Depression – Mental health can suffer; some teens may develop anxiety or depression. Seek support if you feel your teen needs professional help.
  • Routine Changes – Sleep patterns and appetite may be affected. Teens may also want to be physically close to safe adults.

Whilst the stages of grief are similar to that of an adult, the emotions and behaviours experienced may be more intense and impulsive. Grieving adolescents may need support to express their feelings in a healthy and safe way.

The Different Ways Teens Express Grief

Grieving adolescents may wish to talk and share their sadness and feelings of loss. Others may complain of feeling unwell, and some may show anger or recklessness. According to Grief Australia, common grief responses in adolescents can include:

  • Feeling at odds with their emotions and being unsure of how to handle them and express them.
  • Feeling uncomfortable about talking about how they are feeling.
  • Participating in risky behaviour such as fighting at school, truancy, or substance use.
  • Increased need for attention
  • Change in values and questioning what is important
  • Preoccupation with death

Ways to Support Grieving Adolescents

Supporting grieving adolescents is challenging, particularly if you are also experiencing grief. Be kind to yourself and understand that you may not always have the answer or the right words to say. Being a consistent person who sets safe boundaries is the first step. The Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network Resource Centre have provided some ideas for supporting grieving adolescents. Some of these are:

  • Recognise that they are feeling sad too
  • Maintain normal routines to the best of your ability
  • Provide simple and truthful information in a calm voice
  • Recognise that anger can be a way of expressing distress

Be Prepared

  • If a loved one is ill or expected to pass away, tackle the topic of death before it occurs. Explaining death to a child can be emotional, but it will better prepare them for what’s to come.
  • Be prepared for open and challenging conversations. Teens may challenge their faith, seek acceptance of their grief, and seek guidance on how to grieve. Honest conversation gives teens a reference point and the reassurance of knowing that their feelings are normal.
  • Set boundaries. Allowing teens to grieve and cope in their own way is important, but not if it is unsafe or unhealthy. Setting boundaries and being forgiving and supportive when those boundaries are pushed are all a part of the process.
  • Be their advocate. Most teens will still be at school. Some may also have part-time jobs. Navigating bereavement in the workplace and school can be a challenge. Some teens may want to get back into it, and others may need more time. Work with the school and the teen’s employer to provide sufficient bereavement leave and support upon their return.

Acknowledge the Loss

  • Acknowledge that grief in teens can arise from issues such as the breakdown of a relationship or the passing of a friend. Unacknowledged grief can take longer to heal. Acknowledging the loss will help the grieving teen to feel that their feelings are valid and allow them to work through the grieving process more easily.

Provide Opportunities to Grieve in a Healthy Way

  • Make time to undertake grief and loss activities. This could be an individual activity like journalling or something you do together like creating a memory book.
  • Model healthy ways of processing grief, such as mindfulness and physical activity. Be open to undertaking the activities alongside them.

Seek Support if Needed

  • Proactively intervene and seek professional support if you suspect depression or unhealthy behaviours.
  • Take the time to seek support and guidance for yourself. Supporting grieving adolescents is a big but important job, and it can also take a toll on you.

How we can Help

If you are supporting a grieving adolescent, we’re here to help. The Centre for Care & Wellbeing, located at Springvale Botanical Cemetery, is a caring and supportive space for those in any stage of the grieving process. You can attend in person or access a range of free resources online.

At the Southern Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust, we care for you and your loved one in life and death. For enquiries about the Centre for Care & Wellbeing or any of our services, please get in touch.

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