The teenage years can be fraught with emotions, but even more so for teens dealing with grief and loss.
It may be the death of a parent, sibling, friend or even a beloved pet – but teens can also experience the stages of grief and loss after other circumstances – such as:
- moving to a different school;
- parental separation and divorce;
- breaking up with their own boy/girlfriend; or
- missing out on a place at university, or other opportunity.
Grief and loss is a normal response to the loss of something – or somebody – that is significant to the individual.
The Stages of Grief for Teens
Most of us have heard of the ‘five stages of grief’ – however, it is rarely a straight forward process. Individual responses to grief vary greatly; some people move through the five stages in order, but it is common to also go back and forth between stages, or even skip stages entirely.
Stage 1 – Denial: This is the stage where a teen might say things like: “I can’t believe it”, or “This isn’t happening”, revealing their state of disbelief or denial. This is the brain’s way of coping, as it slowly process the loss and allows the truth to sink in. Some teens will feel numb; others may become hysterical.
Stage 2 – Anger: Intense emotions such as anger and blame may set in, and not yet having the maturity and emotional control of adulthood, the teen may lash out at others, including doctors, strangers, loved ones who are trying to help, or even the deceased.
Stage 3 – Bargaining: Teens may find themselves bargaining with the powers-that-be: “If you let her get better I’ll never break my curfew again”; “I will be so helpful and polite that Dad will come back to live with us again”. This is an attempt to feel as if they have some control of a situation, over which they really have no control.
Stage 4 – Depression: Your grieving teen may become withdrawn, emotional and frequently teary, as they are overcome with feelings of sadness or despair. They may lose interest in activities they usually love, or pay little attention to their own grooming and self-care.
Stage 5 – Acceptance: In the final stage of grief, the teenager begins to rebuild their life around new values and meaning. They return to their previous levels of functioning, and can remember happier times without feeling overwhelmed by their grief and pain.
How Long Do the Stages of Grief Take?
While some teens appear to return to their usual level of functioning very quickly after experiencing a loss, others take a lot longer. It can also depend on the severity of the loss. There is no ‘normal’ timeframe, and no ‘normal’ way to grieve, as each individual handles their grief in their own way.
During this time of grief and loss, it is quite common if your teen experiences or exhibits any of the following:
- Intense sadness;
- Feelings of hopelessness, and that life has lost all meaning;
- Reduced appetite leading to weight loss;
- Feeling numb or detached;
- Anxiety, anger, guilt and irritation;
- Mood swings, frequent crying.
Helping Your Teen through the Stages of Grief
- Allow your teen to grieve. As hard as this can be, it is as your teen experiences the pain of loss that they can start to find their way through. Reassure them that it’s okay to cry, and a healthy way to release painful emotions.
- Encourage your teen to spend time with people who care about them, and to talk about the loss: their feelings, and their memories. This will help them with processing their emotions, and come to terms with their loss.
- Reassure your teen that grief and mourning can be a long process, don’t expect to rush through it. In the meantime, encourage them to exercise, get plenty of rest and eat well; and just take one day at a time.
- Encourage your teen to reconnect with the things that once gave them joy and meaning, and to embrace new experiences.
- Honour your teen’s loss through a special ceremony. This could be as simple as releasing a helium balloon into the sky, creating a Powerpoint of favourite photos and memories, or writing a letter of goodbye. These type of activities can also be helpful around important anniversaries.
But what if you are worried that your teen has become trapped in grief and mourning?
In these cases, symptoms such as intense sadness or yearning for the loss can persist and greatly impair your teen’s daily functioning and life. This is known as ‘complicated grief’, and you may find it helpful to take your teen for professional grief and loss counselling, to help them work through their emotions so they can enjoy life once again.
Author: Tegan Gonczar, BA (Hons), Grad Dip Ed (Secondary).
Tegan Gonczar is a Brisbane psychologist with experience in providing psychological counselling to children, adolescents and adults; she has a passion for working with people of all ages, to help them overcome obstacles, learn effective ways of coping and lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
Bookings and Fees: To make an appointment with Brisbane Psychologist Tegan Gonczar, try Online Booking – Loganholme or call M1 Psychology (Loganholme) on (07) 3067 9129.
- Axelrod, J. (2016). The 5 Stages of Grief & Loss. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 4, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/the-5-stages-of-loss-and-grief/.
- Kübler-Ross, E. (2005) On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss, Simon & Schuster Ltd.