If a teen in your life is experiencing a death, here are three things you can do to support them. Know that this may be their first time experiencing death and that there are a lot of things that will be very new for them.
Some experiences to watch for
Most teens have not attended a funeral before. Rituals and etiquette may cause a lot of anxiety for teens especially if they don’t know what to expect or how to act. They will likely also be uncomfortable feeling like they are on stage, as everyone watches to see how they are coping.
Prepare the child for what to expect depending on the type of services you are going to have. Include them in the planning. Talk about what, if any, elements they would like to be a part of and what, if any, they can opt-out of. Encourage them to participate but don’t force them.
For adolescents who have little experience with trauma, death, pain, or stress, this will be the first time they experience the overwhelming emotions related to grief. This can be frightening and many don’t have the self-awareness to know what types of coping strategies will help.
Normalize the range of emotions grievers are apt to experience. Prepare them for shifts in emotion and give them permission to laugh and feel happy when they feel like it. Help them brainstorm coping strategies such as counseling, journaling, and workbooks, but don’t push.
Questions about life’s meaning
Not all teens are ready to ponder life’s complex existential questions, but they are certainly old enough to contemplate ‘why’s and ‘what for’s in the face of death. This may be the first time their worldview, religious views, or sense of immortality has been challenged.
Allow for open dialogue about a life’s philosophical, theological, and logistical questions. Don’t minimize their questions and help them find their own answers. Support them in talking to religious leaders if appropriate. Try and remember that while you’ve had years to ponder the meaning of life and death, these are questions they are only just beginning to ask.