Ways for friends to console a grieving teen
The death of a loved one can come as a shock to a person of any age. But tragic events especially shock the lives of teens, who are supposed to be enjoying the best years of their life.
The sadness a teenager experiences during grief can make them feel like an outsider to the world of teens around them, made up of parties, football games and exciting plans for the future.
Although adults may try to help, teens are most likely to seek solace from their friends. Unfortunately, many teens have not dealt with death before, and they may not know what to do to help. Some may be so worried about saying the wrong thing that they avoid their grieving friend. But the biggest part of it is simply lending a shoulder to cry on. Just knowing you care is the most important thing to your grieving friend.
Here are some other guidelines and suggestions for how to help your friend in his or her grief:
In the days following the death
Many teens will stay home from school during the first few days after a death. During this time there will be many people coming in and out of their house. It may seem intimidating to visit, but stopping by with flowers, food, or just a card is a lovely gesture to show you care. The reaction of the first few days varies from shock to dismay. You may find your friend totally normal or a total mess.
Unfortunately, life still goes on while people are grieving, and your friend might need help with the day to day tasks of life. If you go to their house and you see the dirty dishes are piling up, it would be nice if you took over and loaded the dishwasher. You might also offer to answer the phone, as it will most likely be ringing constantly. Ask your friend or an adult in the house if they need anything from the store, or if they need any errands run.
Drugs and alcohol aren't a good way to helpDon't offer to take your friend's cares away with alcohol or drugs. Grieving teens are in a shattered state. Substances will only make them weaker and more depressed.
One way to help is to make sure everyone at school and at extracurricular activities knows the situation, so they can be sensitive when your friend comes back. That way they won't have to keep telling people, "My _____ just died." Go around to his or her teachers and talk to them, and get homework assignments for them to catch up on later.
General tips on how to behave
Be sensitive. If your friend lost a brother, try not to mention how great your brother is. If you're not sure, just ask them when you have a moment alone. "Does it bother you when I talk about _____?" Avoid movies and TV shows that might bring up bad memories, such as violent shows or medical dramas.
If the grieving teen decides to open up to you about their sadness, it's important to be a good listener. Make eye contact, face the person and ask open-ended questions about their feelings (these are questions that encourage a long answer, such as "How have you been feeling since _______ died?").
Remember that when someone talks to you about grief, there is really nothing you can do but listen and comfort them. It isn't a problem that can be solved, and it's not up to you to help them move on. They'll do that on their own. That's part of what makes comforting someone in grief so hard.
As time goes on...
Weeks pass, the flowers wilt, the sympathy cards dwindle, and many friends forget the internal turmoil going on in their friend's life. This is the time when it's most important to be there. Remind your friend that he or she can call you any time to talk. Send them e-mails to ask how they're doing. The grieving teen may not want to bring up the topic of death in fear that they'll ruin the party mood.
You might want to suggest a signal that your friend can use whenever he or she needs to talk or just cry. For example, if they tug on your sleeve twice, that means they need to find a place to be one-on-one to grieve.
Your grieving friend may need permission to bring up their deceased loved one. Give them that. Mark the anniversary on your calendar so you can remember, and ask your friend how he or she is doing in the weeks leading up to it.
Overall, it's most important just to let your friend know that you care. Don't try to control their grief, just let them take their time. You may feel you're making "mistakes" in how you help, but the biggest mistake would be to not try at all.
Further sources of information
You may find our other articles in the Teens: ways to console a grieving teenager section helpful too.
Visit our Amazon store to find grief books for teenagers.