How can I help a grieving teen?

What is grief?

Grief is often recognized as an emotional response to the death of a loved one. While this is a common form of grief, the term is actually much broader. Grief can also affect us physically, socially, and behaviorally. It isn’t always a response to death, either. We can grieve over any loss — an illness, unexpected unemployment, or the end of a relationship can also trigger a grieving period.

How can I tell when my teen is grieving?

Because grief isn’t always linked to an event as readily apparent as the death of a loved one, you may not always be aware that your son or daughter is grieving. Say, for example, your daughter’s boyfriend has just ended their relationship. You may be completely unaware that this has happened, so you may not know that she’s grieving. Fortunately, there are signs that will let you know that something is wrong.

  • Avoidance, retreat
  • Loss of interest in activities
  • Decline in grades
  • Eating disorders
  • Drug/alcohol abuse
  • Risk-taking or self-destructive behavior

If you’re a teen who’s just experienced a loss of some kind, the following may be signs that you’re currently experiencing the grieving process:

  • Confusion, disorientation, lack of concentration
  • Desire to be alone more than usual
  • Pre-occupation with the loss
  • Jealousy, anger, irritability
  • Deep sadness/thoughts of suicide

How can I help a grieving teen?

It’s quite possible that your son or daughter feels like there’s something wrong with them — that their sudden lack of control over their emotions is a sign of something more troubling. It’s important to let your teen know that grieving is completely normal and that there is no “correct” or “incorrect” way to grieve.

Let your teen know that their feelings and emotions are valid and important. Blowing off the importance of the grieving process with a comment like “it’s time to get over it” or “move past it” isn’t helpful. In fact, it’s likely to cause your child to withdraw further. You have to be available to talk about anything at any time. Also, you have to allow them to grieve in any way they choose, as long as it isn’t self-destructive or high-risk behavior.

At some point it may be a good idea to check in with other adults who are involved with your child’s life — teachers, coaches, guidance counselors, etc. They may be able to offer some insight, and they may be able to reach your child better from the perspective of an authority figure. If you feel like the problem has gotten out of hand, or that you aren’t seeing any improvement over an extended period of time, it may be time to talk to a teen therapist.

What are some signs of recovery?

As your child recovers, you’ll begin to notice their personalities return to normal. They’ll begin to become interested in activities again, and they’ll have the energy to devote to these activities. They’ll begin to reorganize their lives and reconnect with loved ones. As your teen finds peace with their loss, they’ll regain confidence and begin to feel comfortable just being by themselves, as well as being comfortable in a group.

As your teenage son or daughter matures, they will experience many ups and downs. Experiencing loss and the grieving process can hurt, but it’s a necessary part of becoming an adult. Most of the time, your child will work through this process and move on to the next stage of their lives. Sometimes, however, it’s necessary to seek out professional help. At Outback, we are extremely familiar with the teen grieving process and we specialize in helping teens work through it. Contact us today with any questions or concerns that you may have.


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