Helping Teenagers Deal With Death

English: Actor Cory Monteith at premiere party...
English: Actor Cory Monteith at premiere party of TV series Glee, Santa Monica, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The recent death of Corey Monteith, one of the stars of the popular teen TV Show Glee serves as a stark reminder that we can lose people in our lives at any time.  For our teenagers and some adults, the loss of a favorite actor or other celebrity can be as emotional as the loss of a loved one, especially if the parts the person portrayed were or the music the person made created a connection between the teen and the show or the song.  But no matter who it is that a teenager in our lives has lost, there is no question that it is our job as the adults to step up and help them cope with their feelings of loss and deal with their grief.

While loss is a part of life, it is often a part that parents and other adults go to great lengths to shield children and teens from experiencing.  But when the worst happens, supportive adults who can guide the youth around them through the grieving process are doing more than just helping them through a difficult time.  They are giving them the skills to endure loss on their own and to help others learn the same lessons as they grow into adults.

Experiencing the loss of a loved one is never easy and the grieving process is not the same for children at different life stages as it is for adults.  In order to be supportive of the young people in your life who have experienced the death of someone close to them, it is helpful to understand how grief can manifest differently in teens than it does in adults.

Here are some of the signs caregivers and other adults should be aware of that can indicate a teenager is grieving:

  • Heightened emotional responses
  • Sadness
  • Being tired all the time
  • Experiencing anxiety attacks
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Angry outbursts
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Denial
  • Depression and loss of interest in daily life
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Not eating
  • Frequent non-specific physical complaints like headaches and stomach aches
  • Unwillingness to be left alone or being afraid of being alone
  • Pulling away from friends
  • Refusing to go to school or to stay at school for the entire day
  • Reverting to younger behaviors like bedwetting and thumb-sucking
  • Drop in grades
  • Imitating the person who has passed away
  • Asking lots of questions about the person who has died
  • Expressing the desire to go where the person they lost is or to join them in death
  • Inventing or playing games that revolve around dying

The Most Important Thing

When it comes to experiencing a loss, the most important thing you, as an adult, can do for the teenagers in your life is to help them find a way to grieve and deal with the loss.  Any behavior that helps deny, avoid, or overlook the loss is unhealthy and can lead to very real long term problems later in life.  Teenagers need to go through the process of grieving even though it is painful and difficult and sad and the adults in their lives, despite the instinct to protect, must allow them to grieve in the way that works for them.

What You Can Do

1.     Be Honest

Don’t talk around the issue or try to lessen the pain by using buffering words and phrases like “passed away.”  Answer questions honestly and age appropriately.

2.     Don’t Over Share

While honesty is the best policy, there is such a thing as too much truth and when it comes to teens and the loss of a loved one, less is better.  Don’t overload them with information and don’t get into the details unless they ask for more information.

3.     Be Sad and Let them Be Sad Too

Losing someone we love is sad.  It can induce all kinds of fears about the future and challenge our sense of security.  Teenagers feel these same things.  Don’t try to talk them out of feeling sad or angry or any other negative emotion.  Be supportive and encourage them to express their feelings.  Validation, support, and a good, empathetic listener is what they need rather than false promises that everything is going to be fine.

4.     Don’t Expect Too Much Too Soon

Grieving is a process that will involve good days and bad days.  Sometimes things will be going well and something will pop up that triggers a memory or jumpstarts the grieving process.  Be patient and understanding as these grief triggers go off and make yourself available for support when they do.



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