How should you support your teen who is dealing with death?


Teenagers sometimes grieve more intensely than children or adults due to the overall intensity of their emotions. If you, as an adult, feel that you are unable to deal with this intensity or you're overwhelmed by your own feelings of grief, know that there are support groups, members of the clergy, and grief therapists who have the experience and tools to help your teenager heal from the loss of a parent, sibling, friend or other loved one.

Experts suggest that parents of teens who are mourning should avoid certain common reactions. Don't change the topic every time the teenager wants to talk about the person who died and don't rush to clear out all physical mementoes from the house. Don't tell the teen to be strong or that now he's the father of the house (she's the mother of the house), as it puts too much pressure on the half-adult, half-child that a teenager is. Don't assume that their peers are able and willing to give them the support and understanding they crave; unless they also went through losing a loved one, friends might be so totally helpless that they prefer to ignore the whole topic.

You can be there to listen to your teenagers as they share their feelings and fears, and you can tell them that, yes, it's ok to feel sad, angry, or confused when someone they love dies. You can give them a journal to write in, suggest doing a good deed in memory of a loved one, or arrange for them to meet with someone who has undergone a similar loss. Read about the stages of grief and give your teenager reading material that you think will be appropriate. Keep your eyes open for symptoms of depression, guilt, a sudden dive in academic performance, denial of emotional pain, or withdrawal from friends or other family members, and get outside help if needed.