by Dawn Lyons
You know how we don’t like to think about or talk about death, much less experience the loss of a loved one, whether a family member, friend or even an acquaintance. This is complex and problematic stuff at any age, and can be particularly difficult for teenagers to understand.
How do you help your teenager cope with loss? There are some things to avoid when helping your teenager cope with death:
DON’T tell them to “accept” it.
Of course, they need to grasp the reality of the situation, but telling – and expecting – young people to “accept” the loss of a loved one is like forcing them to say the fact that this person who played an important role in their lives is dead is ok. And the reality of that is, it is anything BUT ok.
DON’T think the loss doesn’t affect them as much as it affects someone else.
The idea that the death of a friend or a friend’s family member couldn’t really be all that upsetting, or that the death of a parent doesn’t have more of a devastating effect on the spouse than the child, is not only incorrect but could be detrimental in helping youth who are experiencing grief and bereavement. Any indication, intended or not, that they shouldn’t be having as difficult a time coming to terms with the loss or experiencing the grief can cause them to believe they shouldn’t feel the way they do. This, in turn, can cause them to internalize their thoughts and feelings and create bigger problems. Even a loss that seems to be at a distance, such as someone at school, or the parent of a friend, is enough to cause a deeply emotional reaction.
It will also elicit a thought process around the (scary and often previously unconsidered) realities of mortality and the potential for loss, whether expected or unexpected. It is important to be conscious of and sensitive to the experience of a loved one’s passing from the teenager’s perspective.
DON’T rely on the school to provide assistance.
In fact, don’t even assume that the teachers, guidance counselors or administrators at your children’s school know what has happened, even if you have called to advise them. Speak personally with each person who will be involved with your child and could provide assistance, but keep in mind that the possibility that the school does not have the ability or resources to support your child through their grieving process could be an unfortunate reality.
DON’T put unreasonable expectations on them (and don’t expect too little, either).
It’s difficult to find the right words to express support in times of loss, but phrases such as “you’re the man of the house, now” or “take care of your Grandpa” is the last thing young people need to hear. Not only does it make them feel like they are being forced into a position they don’t want and probably feel incapable of handling, it creates additional stress and discomfort for them to think that individuals they are used to relying upon now need help themselves.
Other unreasonable expectations to avoid include thinking a group of friends can continue on as normal after a member of the group, or someone in the group’s family has passed, or expecting your teenager to perform the same at school, have the same interests and essentially be the same as they were before the person passed. Things are not – and will not be – the same.
DON’T assume they are – or will be – ok.
Too often, the assumption that “kids are resilient” and “they’ll be ok” are made when there should be more focus on what teenagers are experiencing and if they need help. This is especially true in situations of grief and bereavement, when they are more likely than ever to internalize what they are feeling and not know where to turn for help, and they may not even recognize the fact that they need help.
When supporting a teenager who has lost a loved one, it is important to remember that their perspective on death and loss is different than that of adults and can’t be addressed in the way an adult will often face the situation. While it’s easy to wait for everything to go back to “normal,” the reality is that this can’t happen, and teenagers need a safe place to grieve in addition to compassion and encouragement as they create their “new normal.”
A professional writer and editor, Dawn Lyons created ‘Write’ Steps 4 Teens by combining her passion for writing with her desire to help teenagers resolve stress-inducing concerns and consciously create their own success stories. Find out more by visiting her online at linesbylyons.com.