We always think of adolescence as a time for fun, rebellion and independence. Not as a time of profound loss. But teenagers as well as adults suffer losses.
Due to the challenging time, experience with grief for a teenager, is unique. They aren’t children, or adults. Teens grieving need help for what they consider impossible to survive.
Except childhood, no time of life is so full of changes as adolescence. One of the first changes that teens must face is separating from their families. When they leave childhood security teens begin to separate from their parents and siblings to establish their own identities. This process is normal and necessary. Although teens need to separate from their families they still want to feel loved and secure. This ambivalence can make the grieving process more complicated. Unconsciously the teenager may think “if grieving means I need you but my greatest need now is autonomy, so I do not want to go through this process right now.”
Friends, including boyfriends and girlfriends, can become the most important source of affirmation and acceptance. When a friend dies, besides the particular pain of that moment, the death of another young man makes the teenager more aware of his own death.
At teenagehood, physical changes affect the self-esteem of these young people. And these changes may burden them even more in the grieving process. These changes make them more like men or women what makes us intuitively think they are emotionally mature and can deal with their own grief. No one, especially someone young, must deal with grief alone.
The school, and sometimes the work environments are legitimate and necessary in the teenage world, these spaces help them to find themselves. The death of someone close can put the school or work “on hold”. This is normal. Do not expect that the school development goes on as if nothing had happened. Adults, parents, teachers must understand and even encourage this change of priorities.
The death of a close person is a time of separation for a teenager who begins to rebuild his/her life. With support and understanding, teens in grief, learn early that we, humans, do not have complete control over ourselves and our world. They learn that grief is the natural counterpoint for having loved. They learn that faith and hope are central to find a meaning to everything we do in this short life. And they learn the true value for the joy of living.
Here are some practical tips for dealing with the grief of a teenager:
- Talk about death: in general, bringing death to the conversation helps to dispel fears and goes in favor of acceptance;
- Establishing a relationship of trust and confidentiality: listen without judgment and honor the agreed confidentiality, do not share confessions or intimate speech with others;
- Pay attention to nonverbal communication: 50% of the art of listening and being present involves nonverbal communication. Look in the eyes, leaning toward the person, keep an open posture (no folded arms);
- Say: “I’m sorry”, “I’m thinking of you”, “I care”, “I love you”, “you are very important to me”, “I’m here for you” ,”I want to help”;
- Use the deceased person’s name: when talking to the teenager mention the deceased person saying his name;
- Track and do follow up: after death the support network is intense, relatives and friends are close by. Months after the network decreases, people go back to their activities, lives. Keep on doing a follow up and supporting, do not expect your teenager to take the initiative. Call, send messages, make visits or simply invite for an ice cream.