by Fran King
Teach teens about common grief symptoms to reassure them that they are not going crazy, they are grieving. Provision of information about the grief process through psycho-education can normalize their grief experience and reduce anxieties.
Expect mood swings, anger, resentment, and regression. Repetitive actions and activities are common such as surfing the internet, playing computer games, skateboarding, playing guitar or watching T.V. It is an effort to stay ‘above’ the grief.
Every death is unique and is experienced differently. The way teens grieve differs according to personality and the particular relationship they had with the deceased. They react in different ways to the death of a parent, sibling, grandparent, child, or friend. Since peer relationships are primary, the death or loss of a boyfriend or girlfriend may seem to affect them in a major way.
Never discount or judge their emotional reactions. Teens may experience a prolonged and heightened sense of unreality, giving the impression that they are unaffected by their loss. Their need to distance themselves from the intensity of their pain is greater than adults, leading to greater sense of shock and denial. They may delay much of their grief for weeks and even months.
Allow as much time as they need for their grief to progress as grief is a process not an event. Their grief journey is progressing when:
Memories cause smiles not tears
A sense of humour returns
Regular sleeping and eating patterns resume
Beginning to make plans for the future, to make new relationships, to get involved in activities again
Return of energy and health
There is hope regarding the future
Can give encouragement to others going through a similar loss – they become “the wounded healers”
Development of resilience
Available resources and information
Generate a support system for them. It takes a village to help heal a grieving child so team work with the family, school, church, health care providers, counsellors and other relevant community organizations is important. Google: Grief Support for Teens
Give information and support to parents of grieving teens. Check out community resources and Google: Tips for Parents of Grieving Teens.
Encourage bereavement groups because peer support is invaluable. Google: Teen Grief Groups and Grief Support Groups in the School Setting; email firstname.lastname@example.org for Grief Groups in the School Setting Guidelines.
Focus on creating mourning rituals and commemorative activities. Recognize how teens communicate their grief as only 7% of their communication is verbal. Words? Tears? Anger? Acting out? Distraction? Music? Art work? Attention seeking? Regression? Physical symptoms? National Alliance for Grieving Children
Enlist school personnel to advocate for flexibility in academic expectations as grieving teens have trouble concentrating and meeting deadlines. It is important for educators, counsellors and parents to realize that they don’t have to be the “grief experts” and fix the situation but that there are many things they can do to make teens’ grief journeys easier.
Loss, Grief and Growth Curriculum 2011 can be downloaded. Google: loss, grief and growth
Expect grief to resurface at anniversaries, birthdays, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Christmas and at developmental milestones such as first prom, high school graduation. Teens revisit and understand their losses differently as they mature.
Refer to the following websites for further information:
Trauma, Loss and Bereavement Booklet by MADD
Hope and Healing After Suicide
Teenage Grief: Understanding Adolescent Grief
Linda Goldman resources
Liana Lowenstein resources
The Science of the Teenage Brain
Growing Up Resilient: Ways to Build Resilience in Children and Youth
When Families Grieve
About the Author: Fran King, B.A., B.Ed., C.B.E., C.G.T., is an Educational Consultant and Grief Therapist as well as a seasoned educator who was a high school counsellor for over 30 years. A popular speaker, throughout Ontario, on Teen Grief, she has certificates in Bereavement Education and Grief Therapy and sees teens and adults in her private practice in Oshawa. In 2010, she earned her Death and Grief Studies Certificate from Dr. Alan Wolfelt at The Coping Centre in Cambridge, Ontario.
She has had extensive experience facilitating Cancer Coping Skills Groups and Bereavement Support Groups for teens and gives training workshops for Rainbows Canada. Fran has received recognition from the Toronto Sun as “Teacher of the Year,” the YWCA Durham Region as a “Woman of Distinction,” and from the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Ontario Division, with their Award of Excellence. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for Herizon House, a shelter for abused women and their children in Ajax. Fran is a member of the Ontario College of Teachers, the Ontario School Counsellors’ Association, an insured member of the Association for Counsellors, Consultants, Psychometrists and Psychotherapists, and the Durham Regional Representative for the Bereavement Ontario Network. You may contact Fran through her email email@example.com and phone 905.666.2129.