Supporting Bereaved Adolescents

The peer group is the primary source of support for adolescents. Family acts as a resource and a safe place, with the teen working to establish his/her independence. They begin to see and understand the effect that a loss will have on others as well as themselves. However, this ability comes and goes. They are usually able to express and discuss their emotions with others including both friends and caring adults. You can expect that how the adolescent deals with the loss may influence the decisions they make about their future.

When someone is very ill:

  • as soon as possible, give the teen information about the person’s illness and what to expect allowing the teen to think ahead and plan for events in the future
  • help the adolescent find ways of helping the person who is ill, using their present interests or skills
  • consider the number of stresses for the teen and their effect on school or other performance; it may be helpful to offer to help them study for upcoming exams or to proofread assignments
  • ask if s/he is able to talk to friends about what’s happening and explore whether s/he has any concerns or questions about how this person’s illness and death will affect their future

Be alert to the teen’s fears about his or her own mortality; be willing to hear his/her concerns about your lifestyle and what s/he fears could happen to you

When someone has died:

  • Prepare the adolescent for family rituals, include them in planning the funeral or other rituals when possible to commemorate the one who dies, and to express their feelings about the death.
  • Recognize the teen’s need to identify with the person who died and to be clear about the positive and negative parts of their relationship, coming from a normal need to feel connected to that person
  • Describe the grieving process and what to expect; you might talk about your own past experiences with loss
  • Make sure that others their life know about the death, such as friends, teachers, coaches, school staff, etc.
  • Support the adolescent to be independent, encourage them to partake in activities

How to Help:

  • Be honest with information and your own grief process
  • Be available for discussions and remind the adolescent regularly of your availability
  • Expect to hear discussions of death in relation to larger topics of world, meaning of life
  • Expect to be largely unaware of how much the adolescent is processing
  • Understand and allow that exaggerated emotions may be a normal part of grieving
  • Encourage the teen to have relationships with other adults
  • Provide assistance with getting an adolescent involved in expressive or physical outlets
  • Watch for drug and alcohol use and intervene immediately if you suspect it is getting out of hand

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