Grief is overwhelming at any age, but the death of a loved one can be especially tough for teenagers, who are already dealing with the ups and downs of adolescence. Our staff at Wilson St. Pierre has a lot of experience planning funeral arrangements with families, and we realize trying to make sense of death is particularly complex and frightening for teens. After all, teen brains are still developing, and each person grieves loss differently. Some may respond with sadness and crying, others with humor and laughter. Some might withdraw, while others are extra talkative.
Through our work helping our neighbors in Indianapolis, Greenwood, Franklin Township and Pendleton honor their loved ones, we have a number of suggestions for how you can best help a teenager facing loss.
1.) Validate and support rather than asking question after question. Above all else, it’s important that a teen feels heard. It’s not helpful to force or direct a conversation. Instead, follow their lead. You can ask how they are and if they want to talk about anything, then react accordingly. No matter what, being there for them is a comfort.
2.) Treat a grieving teen as “normal” as possible. Most teens just want to fit in and are seeking a sense of normalcy even in the face of a loss that may have turned their world upside down. If the teen is part of your family, stick with your routine as much as you can. If they’re a friend of your family’s, continue to invite them over and include them as you usually would. Sometimes, adults hold back thinking it’s appropriate to give a family space, but an invitation is always welcome.
3.) Offer the reminder that there is no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve. Many adults have the ability to verbalize their feelings and seek out healthy means of support as needed. Teens often lack the emotional maturity to do so. They may react in unexpected ways, depending on their personality, the relationship they had with the person who died, and the cause of death. Responses may change from day to day, or even hour to hour, and can sometimes cause added stress and tension. Keep in mind that grief is ongoing, and feelings are constantly changing.
4.) Be honest about the situation. So often, adults want to protect the children in their lives by avoiding discussions about complicated or emotionally charged topics. Teens, though, are at a point where they are trying to make sense of life, death, and the meaning of it all. If your teen asks questions or wants to have a difficult conversation, be honest so you can maintain a high level of trust.
5.) Check in often. It means a lot to adults and teens alike to know other people are thinking of the one they lost – even months and years after the death. Don’t hesitate to send a card or tell them that their loved one has been on your mind. This simple gesture can be very meaningful at any age.
When it comes to teen grief, some struggle more than others and may need additional support. Wilson St. Pierre provides exceptional bereavement resources to the community year round. You can always reach out to us when you could use a helping hand.