The Grieving Teen: A Complicated Mourning

Grieving TeenThe grief journey for a teen is different from that of a child or an adult. The death of a significant person in a teen’s life compounds and complicates the developmental process of adolescence. The teenager suddenly finds himself dealing with additional issues including: possible unresolved issues with the person who died, the circumstances of the death, dramatic changes in his or her life situation, changes in relationships with others after the death, The teen’s level of emotional and physical maturity, past experiences, and family dynamics all influence his grief response. Within the young griever is a complex mix of emotions, bodily reactions, thoughts, mental pictures, philosophical and religious ideas, and behaviors associated with the death. ― The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families

Teens who are having serious problems with grief and loss may show one or more of these signs:

  • an extended period of depression in which the teen loses interest in daily activities and events
  • inability to sleep, loss of appetite, prolonged fear of being alone
  • acting younger than their years for an extended period (regression)
  • excessively imitating the dead person
  • repeated statements of wanting to join the dead person
  • withdrawal from friends
  • sharp drop in school performance or refusal to attend school
  • lack of concentration
  • declining grades
  • over-activity, acting too busy
  • assuming more responsibilities and adult roles
  • drug and/or alcohol use
  • risk-taking behavior
  • promiscuity
  • self-destructive, antisocial, or criminal behavior
  • suicidal thoughts

These warning signs indicate that professional help may be needed. Child and adolescent therapists can help teens as they go through the grief process. Grief support groups provide fellowship and are an excellent way to find comfort, help, and guidance.

Helping Teens Cope with Death by The Dougy Center for Grieving Children and Families  This practical guide covers the unique grief responses of teenagers and the specific challenges they face when grieving a death. You will learn how death impacts teenagers and ways that you can help them. The book also offers advice from parents and caregivers of bereaved teens on how to support adolescents and how to determine when professional help is needed.

Fire in My Heart, Ice in My Veins: A Journal for Teenagers by Enid Traisman  Teens can write letters, copy down meaningful lyrics, write songs and poems, tell the person who died what they want them to know, finish business and use their creativity to work through the grieving process. Visit the website, an online anonymous place where teens can share their thoughts, journal writings, illustrations, and helping information with other teens who have suffered a loss.

Complicating Teen Grief for Adults Who Care for Teens  Factors that can prolong the grief process and increase the pain and difficulty that loss and death bring.

Guidelines for Responding to the Death of a Student or School Staff  Guidelines to help school administrators, teachers, and crisis team members respond to the needs of students and staff after a loss has impacted the school environment, such as after the death of a student or staff member or when deaths occur that affect many people in the community.

Helping Your Children After a Suicide  This article is for parents whose children or teenagers have experienced the loss of a friend or another student at school through suicide, although much of the information will apply in other situations.

How Teachers Can Help a Grieving Teen  What teachers, school counselors, other school staff, and other classmates can do to help and support a grieving teen.

Pet Loss: Is It A Different Kind of Grief?  Sometimes pet loss is more difficult than the loss of a person. 

Responding to Teen Grief  The essence of working with young people is to create a protected environment where grief can be expressed without judgment. This “safe haven for grief work” is the thread that binds all the resources, supports, and interventions used by parents, educators, and other caring professionals to help the grieving teen.

Sibling Death and Childhood Traumatic Grief: Information for Families  Children are more likely to experience traumatic grief if the death was sudden or traumatic, if it occurred under terrifying circumstances, or if the child witnessed or learned of horrific details surrounding the death.

The Effects of Teenagers’ Self-Esteem After Losing Parents  The death of a parent is one of the most painful, if not traumatic, experiences for a child. When death occurs during adolescence, it complicates a teenager’s natural process of defining her identity in the world.

Traumatic Grief in Military Children  The reactions of some children and teens to the death of a parent or someone close to them may be more intense than the common deep sadness and upset of grief. In childhood traumatic grief, children develop symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

When a Sibling Dies  An article for teens by Helen Fitzgerald, author of The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends

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