What Every Parent of a Grieving Teen Must Know

Teens who suffer the loss of a loved one may need more grief support than many well-meaning adults recognize. Friends may not know what to say; classmates may not even know a death has occurred. Both realities may cause adolescents to feel increasingly isolated.

Teen Grief is Often Dismissed

Another reason teens may have an especially difficult time grieving is that many feel their loss is minimized. 

When Heidi Horsley’s younger brother died in a car accident when he was 17, she believed her loss was largely overlooked. “I was told by the world to be strong for my parents,” reflects Ms. Horsley, who today, 35 years later, is a psychologist and Co-Founder of the Open to Hope Foundation. “When people found out my brother died, they would ask how my mom was doing. I felt like I had to take care of my parents and that I didn’t have the right to my own grief because my parents had lost a child.” Open to Hope recommends several teen-specific resources, including Time for Teens, an organization that offers retreats, workshops, counseling, and seminars.

Indicators Your Grieving Teen May Need Professional Help

If you think your son or daughter needs extra support, you may be right. The Center for Loss & Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado has put together the below warning signs to be mindful of in the days, weeks, even years following a death:

  • Symptoms of chronic depression, sleeping difficulties, restlessness, and low self-esteem.
  • Dropping grades or indifference to school-related activities
  • Deterioration of relationships with family and friends
  • Risk-taking behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse, fighting, and unsafe sexual experimentation
  • Denying pain while at the same time acting overly strong or mature
Another reason teens may have an especially difficult time grieving is that many feel their loss is minimized. 

Finding Support for Your Grieving Teen

There are resources across the country to help grieving teens.  Here are a few to consider:

Summer Camps and Outdoor Adventures

Camps for grieving teens are run across the country. They provide opportunities for engaging in recreational, social, and physical activities alongside peers who are also mourning the loss of loved ones. Many teens experience therapeutic benefits, including a release of their emotions and regaining hope

Camps aren’t the only options. Teens seeking comfort, solace, and validation may also enjoy multi-day adventures. Trips include canoeing, hiking, and rafting. 

Below are four opportunities to consider:

Free Resources Close to Home

Professionals in your community are available to help. The National Alliance for Grieving Children has a state-by-state list of support groups online. Most grief support centers offer counseling at no cost. Find one near you here

Another avenue for finding assistance is by talking with local clergy or your son or daughter’s guidance counselor at school. 

If your family is facing a crisis, please know you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Helpline anytime at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

About Allison Gilbert

Allison Gilbert is Senior Writer for the CPTC. Her pieces cover an array of topics including self-care, bullying, grief, and resilience. Allison is author of numerous books and speaks across the country to corporations, non-profits, and community groups. You can learn more by visiting www.allisongilbert.com.

Read more articles by this author

Get our weekly newsletter for practical tips to strengthen family connections.