Grief can be undoubtedly challenging at any age. It’s tumultuous, painful, and inherently unique to each individual. Indeed, many adolescents struggle to understand their emotions and thoughts when it comes to experiencing profound loss.
With that in mind, learning how to support a teenager can help them feel understood during this vulnerable struggle. Let’s get into what you should know.
Validate Their Feelings
Grief often comes in waves, and it’s normal to rotate between feeling anxious, sad, numb, angry, and guilty. Try to avoid telling the adolescent how they should feel. Whatever they are experiencing is “right.”
Furthermore, avoid potentially shaming statements like, There’s no reason to feel guilty; you didn’t do anything wrong. While these statements are often wrapped with good intentions, they can trigger the adolescent to feel even more misunderstood.
Avoid Generic Platitudes
Many people feel uncomfortable with grief and loss. To avoid these painful emotions, they often resort to affirmative statements to make things seem better.
Generic platitudes include statements like:1
- “They’re in a better place!”
- “This was all part of God’s plan.”
- “At least they lived a very long life.”
- “Try not to dwell on it.”
- “You need to be strong for ____.”
- “Everything happens for a reason.”
- “I know exactly how you feel.”
Even if you or the adolescent believes these messages, they often come across as insensitive and dismissive. Instead, it’s much better to focus on empathizing with their situation and validating their reality.
Grief isn’t a competition, and there is no need to rank emotions.2 While loss may be a universal experience, how we react, cope, and integrate it into our lives is incredibly personal.
Even if you think you’ve experienced a more traumatic experience, it doesn’t help to speak on how things could be so much worse. The feelings are right here, and they are real, and it’s important to accept them for what they are.
Instead, aim to be present. Let them know that you are always available to talk about the loss and that you won’t judge them for their experiences.
Ask How You Can Support Them
Directly ask what you can do to help. If they aren’t sure, provide action-based solutions. For instance, you can ask if you can attend the funeral or cook them their favorite meal. Offer to run an important errand or even just sit with them if they need to cry.
In addition, it’s crucial to offer routine check-ins. Don’t be afraid of their feelings. Continue connecting, even if some time has passed. While the grief can be incredibly immense during the first few weeks or months, many people need even more support once the initial shock has faded.
Help Them Help Themselves
Grief therapy can be an important component of healing and recovery. Many people benefit from having a safe, nonjudgmental space to process their emotions.
It’s worth asking if your adolescent wants to speak to a trusted professional. Contact us today to learn more about how to start this critical conversation.