Adolescence can be an exciting time of self-discovery and identity development. However, as adolescents seek more independence, families may find this time filled with disagreements and periods of irritability and frustration.

When a young person experiences significant loss during this already tumultuous time, their family may notice unexpected and concerning changes in the teen’s behavior.

Because adolescence can be a difficult time on its own, it’s important to provide your teen with consistent support and attention. The best way to help is to first understand how a teenager’s grief differs from an adult’s.

Depending on the role of the person who died, many aspects of day-to-day life may have changed, including the teen’s emotional support system, family structure, financial stability or living arrangements. Their entire sense of normalcy might be shifting around them—on top of their grief. That’s a lot to handle for anyone, but it’s especially burdensome for a young person who is not fully emotionally developed. The feeling that they have no control over their lives might cause them to act out in order to regain a sense of control.

Adolescents have their whole lives ahead of them. They are most likely not just mourning the person who died, but also all of the future milestones that person will miss (graduation, marriage, children). If they lost a parent or caregiver, this sense of “missing out” may be particularly keen.

The key to communicating with a grieving teenager is empathy and understanding. Keep all of the above factors in mind when approaching your teen to talk. Following are some tactics to help you guide your teenager through this difficult time:

  • Don’t force them to talk. Let them know that you are there for them when they are ready.
  • Give them choices about their future whenever practical and appropriate. This will help them regain a sense of control over their life.
  • Encourage them to talk to others. Your child might be more willing to talk openly with friends, teachers, coaches or mentors.
  • Be honest with them. Although it’s important to protect them from adult burdens (finances, etc.), being open with your teen about future plans can help them feel safe and secure.
  • Give them structure. Planning family dinners or game nights lets your teen feel a comforting sense of normalcy and routine. In addition, family bonding in a relaxed, fun setting may encourage your teen to open up to you.
  • Reach out to a professional. Enrolling your teenager in grief counseling or a support group after the loss of a loved one can be very helpful. Kids Path offers teen support groups and individual counseling facilitated by licensed counselors. Having a neutral space to discuss their feelings, and a group of people who relate to their experience, is therapeutic for a teen that is navigating grief.

To learn more about individual grief counseling or grief support events for teens, please call Kids Path at 336.544.5437.