When is teen grief normal versus a cause for concern?
Grief is hard on anyone, and teen grief is hard on parents as well as teens. Teenagers are at a high risk age for suicide. So, while grief is a normal and natural reaction to loss, you want to be especially alert with teen grief.
Look for warning signs such as personality changes, self-harming, major changes in eating or sleeping or social patterns, talk of suicide, isolation, drug or alcohol abuse. Take such warning signs seriously, and seek the help of a mental health professional.
Teen grief can happen with the death of a parent, grandparent, sibling or friend. Teen grief can also be triggered by a breakup, parents getting a divorce, a move, or another major loss.
Parents can help by being willing to listen. Don’t negate your teen’s experience with statements such as: “don’t feel bad” or “you should be over it by now.” If you are unable to listen due to your own grief, I recommend that you both get support, such as working with a grief coach.
Simple things like healthy food, water, exercise, talking, and being outdoors can make a world of difference. Parents can support their teen by insisting on a healthy dinner together, going for a walk together, getting their teen into sports, maintaining a regular routine, etc.
Find a way to express and honor grief in a positive way, such as planting a tree, raising a scholarship fund, or an art project. Challenge your teen to come up with an appropriate idea!
The good news is that studies show that after grief can come much post traumatic growth. Surprisingly, teens who lose a parent are MORE likely to be successful than those who did not. A study reported in “The Talent Code” by Dan Coyle showed a correlation between dealing with the adversity of early parent loss and later success. Here are a few famous people who lost a parent early in life: Michelangelo, the Bronte sisters, Newton, Darwin, Keats, Mark Twain, and Stephen Colbert.
Teenagers are often struggling to discover and define who they are, and who they want to become. Rather than ignore this, why not lean into these questions, and help your teen dig deep to discover the answers?
Death invites us to ask big questions, such as:
> What is the meaning of my life?
> How can I live a life true to my own dreams, and free of the expectations of others?
> How can I build solid relationships and friendships?
> How can I express myself more fully and authentically, and not die with my music inside me?
> How can I design my life so that I am happy and flourishing?
These are good questions for ongoing discussion with your teen. Discovering their own answers can set your teen up for long term success.
In summary, you can help your teen through grief by maintaining a regular routine, helping them maintain healthy habits (food, sleep, etc), and ensuring that they have a safe place to share their feelings.
If you have younger children, read these tips.