Supporting Teens Who Are Grieving
The “teen” or adolescent years are marked by extensive emotions and emotional reactions on a daily basis as they navigate the process of moving from childhood to adulthood. The life losses that they experience intensify this process. It is important that the adults in their lives support them in understanding, processing and coping with these experiences. The following guidelines are designed to assist both adults and teens.
It is important that adults understand the normal teen development issues and the grieving process so that situations do not become overly complicated and danger signs are not missed.
It is helpful to reassure teens that the intensity of the initial feelings will diminish in time.
Listen without judging. Teens need to be respected and understood. A teen’s natural striving for independence will cause them to be particularly sensitive to adult judgment or criticisms blocking their ability to receive comfort when they need it the most.
Be aware of trying to control teens. This can result in excessive independent behavior.
Adults need to be aware of their own grief and needs. Teens should not be placed in the role of confidant for the adults.Teens need to be able to depend on the adults to support and protect them.
Expect and accept a dip in academic performance. Adjust expectations to align with a teen’s ability to cope and function while grieving.
Respect the need for privacy. They need both a place and time for themselves while they process the loss.
Understand the teen’s ability to think in the abstract. This cognitive process will drive their reasoning and discussions.
Accept the philosophical concepts they express as their way of finding meaning in the loss.
When possible add perspective to the teen’s discussions and ideas.
Give permission to not grieve all the time. Teens as well as adults need to find joy in daily experiences and relationships even while grieving a loss.
Acknowledge and accept a variety of safe and appropriate ways of expressing grief. Watch for signs of hopelessness, harmful expressions of anger, impulsiveness, isolation, or a sense of helplessness. These behaviors indicate a need for professional support such as counseling to assist the teen during the grieving process.
Support teens in implementing rituals, routines and sharing of memories that bring them comfort and support their grieving process.
Helping a Friend in a Suicidal Crisis
The teen years are challenging as young people determine their own values and meaning in their lives. Often teens do not feel that they are understood, especially by adults. Both adult and societal expectations cause stress, anxiety and hopeless in teens which can lead to suicidal thoughts. Here are some ways to support a friend who might be thinking about suicide:
Know the clues to suicidal thoughts:
– Signs of depression: Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
– Suicidal threats/words of warning (I wish I was dead)
– Signals of loneliness/withdrawal and isolation from others
Trust your judgment of the potential situation. If you think someone is in danger of hurting themselves, act on your concerns.
Share your concerns with an appropriate adult. Tell a teacher, counselor, your parent, a Church leader. It is okay to break a confidence to help a friend in danger.
Stay with a friend who shows signs of suicidal thoughts or actions. It is important to be with the person until help arrives or the crisis passes.
Be a good listener. Let the person talk about their fears/ concerns. Pay attention. Stay calm and be understanding. Take their concerns seriously.
Talk about their suicidal thoughts. Ask them if they have a plan and access to the things they need to execute their plan. This helps you access the seriousness of the situation and determine the best course of action in getting them help.
Encourage the help of a professional. Offer to go with the person in obtaining professional help from a School Counselor, Church leader, Psychologist, etc.
Know local resources in advance. Look up agencies and resources especially for teens in your school and community before a crisis occurs. This will assist you in offering good options to the person in need.
Be supportive. Let the person know that you care about them, that they are not alone. Assure them that you will help them get appropriate help and will continue to be their friend.
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