Adolescent Grief and Parents’ Role in Managing It

By Tess Thompson


Adolescence is an impressionable age. A child’s brain has not fully developed to understand the future implications of certain life events like death and is liable to build theories in the mind that are far removed from reality. Death of a loved one often sends waves of emotional upheavals in the young mind that fails to properly understand the direct and indirect consequences of the event.


Adolescence is also characterized by new social and emotional experiences that aid in learning and reasoning abilities. A child’s concept of death changes with age. While a child may not fully understand the finality of death, adolescents may be able to accept the irreversibility of the event. However, they may still fail to realize or accept the implications of the event in its entirety.  


Adolescents need help for emotional healing probably to a larger extent than adults. Another aspect of adolescent grief is presented by their tendency to conceal or under play the emotion   that they may be feeling. Teenagers have a typical notion that they are always being watched by parents, which makes them conscious about their behaviors. At an age where they are prone to rely on friends rather than family, it is important for parents to know just the time to step in with help.


The young mind fails to recognize that speaking out and expressing what one is feeling deep inside can actually help to a large extent. It is here that parents or care givers have to play the part of a grief counselor. While handling adolescent grief, it is important that parents keep in mind that many times teens try to play the role of a responsible adult and try to protect their parents. If they see elders being overly overwhelmed with grief, they are likely to feel that they are adding to the troubles of their parents by expressing their own feelings. In such instances, a teenager may take a conscious decision of keeping quiet even in the face of emotional distress  that is building within.


Regardless of age, the grieving process is important to be able to resume normal duties. Grief depends on individual personalities and there is nothing that is right or wrong about the emotions that one goes through. The process and physical manifestations of the same may differ based on cultural variations and mourning rituals. Shielding adolescents from these rituals is not recommended since exposure to such rituals actually helps them in understanding that grief is normal and that what they are feeling is part of normal life experiences.


Preoccupation with own feelings has serious implications and can negatively affect the child’s mental development. What parents can do is to help the child in giving expression to feelings that are whelming within. Patient listening without judgmental comments, encouraging a journal, a healthy nutritional diet, exercise and sufficient rest can go along a way in providing relief from grief.





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