by Beau Peters
Losing a loved one is never easy and we all deal with grief in our own ways. However, teens can have an even harder time navigating their emotions during grief because teen years are already tumultuous and fraught with change that can cause stress and anxiety.
The specifics surrounding the event and who died or how the death occurred can also play a significant role in the way a teen processes their grief. When a peer loses their life to suicide, for example, this can be particularly difficult for teens to cope with. As such, the way you help them as a parent can be crucial to their grieving process.
Understandably, this can seem like a daunting or even impossible task, especially if your teen is having a particularly difficult time with the loss and how it occurred. However, avoiding talking about it with your teen can make matters worse and hinder the healing process.
In this article, we will offer further insight into how teens deal with grief and provide tips to help you navigate your teen’s grief and help them cope after the loss of a peer.
Understanding Teen Grief
Adolescents often experience grief in more profound ways because they are already in a developmental phase of big physical and emotional changes. The changes they are experiencing in their lives can impact how they process grief, and the grief can also impact how they handle everything else that is happening to them.
As teens are in between childhood and adulthood, their reactions to grief can flip back and forth between more adult reactions and more juvenile reactions. One moment they may seem like they need you and your support, and the next they might push you away because they want to handle it on their own.
It’s also not uncommon for teens to gravitate more toward their friends and other peers when grieving, because of their shared experiences. This can come across as avoidance from your perspective as the parent, but it might simply be that they prefer the support of their friends because they can relate more to how they are feeling.
Either way, whether a teen leans on you like they did when they were younger or if they push you away and prefer peer support, both are normal reactions. It’s also okay if they find the intensity of their emotions overwhelming and have a hard time expressing what they are feeling, especially when trying to make sense of suicide and why their peer died by suicide.
Tips for Helping Your Teen Cope After a Peer’s Death By Suicide
While everything your teen is experiencing during their grief process is normal, there are ways that are better to help them navigate their grief than others. Coping after suicide loss is challenging, but with the tips below, you can better support your teen as they process their grief.
1. Process Your Own Feelings First
First, before you can help your teen, it’s important to take some time to process your own feelings on the matter. Your teen will not necessarily feel the same way about the loss as you will. So it’s crucial that you reflect on your own feelings first so you can speak more calmly to your teen and avoid forcing your feelings onto them. It’s better to come from a place of support and understanding rather than pushing your opinions onto them simply because it’s how you feel.
2. Don’t Hide From or Avoid the Truth
The second thing to remember when addressing grief over death by suicide with your teen is to be open and honest about it. Talking about suicide isn’t easy, but it’s important that you find the right language to do so. If you avoid the topic it can actually make it harder for your teen to process thoughts surrounding the death by suicide and why it happened.
Even just from a general standpoint, it’s important to acknowledge grief and all the messy thoughts and emotions that come with it. It’s crucial that you create a safe space where your teen knows that everything they are feeling is valid, that their emotions matter, and that it’s okay to talk about the hard stuff, even if it makes them uncomfortable.
3. Don’t Push
With the above said, it’s also important not to push or force your teen to talk before they are ready. Having patience and giving your teen time to process their own emotions first is a critical step in helping teens deal with grief.
You can simply let them know you are there and try to be supportive no matter how they react, but do not force them to talk to you. They might want your support but don’t know what to say or what to ask yet, so just give them time and let them come to you.
5. Stick to Routine
After a loss, sticking to a routine can help your teen cope by providing them with a sense of normalcy. Just because they are still grieving doesn’t mean their entire life needs to fall apart. They might actually be feeling this way — like everything is crumbling around them — so bringing back routine as much as possible can give them something to hold onto.
This can include making sure they are still going to school, participating in extracurriculars, going out with friends, doing their chores, etc. You can offer some leniency, of course, but ensuring some sense of normalcy can help them move through their grief and get back to enjoying their life again.
6. Encourage Them to Talk to Others
As teens are already likely to turn toward their community of peers during their grief, it’s crucial that you encourage this to show your support. You can certainly encourage seeking support through grief groups and meetups, but it’s also okay to support them in seeking nontraditional forms of community support.
For example, teens today often find a lot of comfort and support from online communities, such as gaming communities or digital spaces like the metaverse. In fact, the metaverse is already being used to provide safe meeting spaces for those looking to share about death, grief, and pain. Though this might seem odd to you, it could be the complete opposite for your teen and help them find the support they need to better process what they are going through.
However, if your teen does seek support through an online digital community, you may still want to be involved in the process of getting them set up in the metaverse. It’s important to ensure that tjey are joining a platform that you can trust will keep them safe from security threats and online harassment.
7. Help Them Seek Professional Counsel
Of course, if your teen is having an especially hard time with their grief, you can help them find a therapist who can offer them more professional services. However, it can actually be difficult today to find a good therapist today due to a shortage of mental health professionals, so make sure you spend time with your teen helping them find a practitioner that is right for them and their needs. This will show them that you genuinely care about their well-being and help them through their grief.
If you are struggling to help your teen process their grief, just know that you are not alone. Many parents struggle in these situations. Just remember to be open and honest with your teen and to give them time to process how they are feeling and come to you. If you are still having a hard time, there are resource centers, websites, and even therapists that can help you get what you need so you can then better support your teen through their grief.
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