Factors affecting a teen’s response to death.
• Their age
• Their relationship with the person
• Previous experience of death or trauma within the family
• Their own resilience and the support and care they receive
• The cause and nature of the death (for example, whether sudden or expected, whether by suicide or violence)
How might a grieving teen feel?
• Have trouble concentrating
• Be a lot more tired and therefore irritable
• Have a heightened sensitivity to comments and remarks
• Be so wrapped up in their own feelings that they fail to take the feelings of others into account, which can result in arguments and fights
• Feel deep sadness, that may or may not be expressed in conventional ways such as crying
• Feel a hollow, achy pain inside that is hard to put into words and may be described as hunger or boredom or fear
• Feel a sense of numbness which makes it hard for them to describe or connect to any feelings
• Feel loneliness and a sense of having been abandoned
• Feel anxiety about the safety and well-being of the rest of the family, especially parent/s
• Feel that they have to become more responsible e.g. be the ‘man of the house’ or to mother younger siblings
• Feel hopeless – that there’s no point in anything anymore, including school work
• Feel anger and even rage at what has happened. Could have a lot of un-vented anger and frustration about the death
• Blame, or guilt, or shame, for things said or unsaid, done or undone
• Feel physical symptoms (e.g. headaches, stomach aches or perhaps symptoms which reflect their worries they have the same illness)
•Feel sadness with parents’ emotional exhaustion and absorption in their own grief – “Mum isn’t interested in anything I do anymore”
It is important to recognise that some, or all these things may happen, and that you are ready to be patient and understanding. It is also important though that normal rules and expectations of behaviour are maintained. Boundaries and a routine actually helps, and a lack of it may cause more problems.
Practical tips for talking with teens
• Be honest
• Use clear language
• Expect questions, but don’t feel pressured to provide immediate answers
• Recognise that every death and every reaction to it is unique.
• Don’t assume anything. Ask how they feel, rather than projecting feelings that you might expect them to have.
• Allow time and space for them to digest the news, find out the facts and discover exactly how they feel
• Be prepared for the teen to move in and out of grief
• Try to normalise the feelings that a bereaved young person shares with you
Potential negative long-term impacts associated with childhood bereavement
● Academic performance may decrease. There is some evidence to suggest that there may be a prolonged decrease in academic performance which may have lifelong impacts on employment, career prospects and financial burden.
● an increased likelihood of substance abuse and other risk taking behaviours.
● greater vulnerability to depression