Adolescence is a time of great change, challenge and uncertainty; dealing with a death on top of this can feel overwhelming. 

Young people we have supported have told us that when someone important in their life has died, they often feel misunderstood by friends and the adults around them, and consequently they feel alone in their grief. 

If you are caring for a bereaved teenager, this can be a worrying time and it can be difficult to know what to say or do to help support them.

Remember everyone is different

It’s important to remember that how your teenager is grieving may not be how you expect them to. The strength of some of their reactions may concern or surprise you; some may start to worry unduly about their own death or that others around them are going to die. For many, it will be their first experience of bereavement and whether the death was expected or not, young people are likely to experience confusion and shock. It’s also not untypical for teenagers to feel numb initially then have a delayed reaction with emotions emerging later. 

Feeling guilty

It’s not uncommon for some teenagers to feel guilt and begin to blame themselves for the death. It is important to acknowledge how they feel whilst encouraging them to think rationally and to talk to someone about it. 

Feeling low

Sometimes young people who are grieving can become apathetic, depressed and withdrawn and develop a ‘What’s the point?’ attitude to education or even life. Dealing with a death at this age can add to what can already be a difficult time when teenagers are already questioning their own identity and place in the world.

Let them know that these feelings are a natural and normal reaction and, encourage them to talk to someone. Getting some fresh air and exercise – even walking - is a natural way of boosting energy levels and mood. For advice from young people on things that can help when you are grieving, visit our A-Z of bereavement support tips

Watch out for risk-taking behaviour

Some teenagers may try to block the pain and avoid thinking about their loss by creating distractions, such as through a hectic social life. Whilst it’s OK for them to have fun, be aware that for some teenagers who are grieving, engaging in risk-taking or anti-social behaviour is not unusual. If you are concerned about this it is important to get some support.

You might say: 

I am worried about you. You have spent several nights away from home without letting me know and are drinking much more than you used to. Let’s think together about what might help.

Grief is exhausting

Grief often manifest itself physically; a bereaved teenager may go off their food, and become tired or irritable. They may also find it difficult to concentrate at school or work. Let them know that this is a normal reaction and will pass in time. In the meantime, encourage a healthily diet and plenty of sleep. 

Facing school or work

For some young people it can be comforting to get back to school or work as soon as possible, finding the routine and familiarity helpful. Others may need more time. Be led by your teenager and encourage them or help them to tell their teachers or employer what has happened and how they are feeling. This will help others to understand why the young person might be upset or quiet, or if they need help managing their workload. You may find it helpful to share our resources for education professionals with your teenager's school. 

It’s OK to need support

Young people do not like to feel pressured into expressing their emotions; it can feel too painful and make them feel vulnerable. They can find it difficult to talk to their parents and might prefer to talk to their friends.  However, sometimes friends may be sympathetic but find it hard to really understand what the bereaved teenager is feeling. You can help them identify someone they might be happy to speak to. 

You might say: 

It can be really hard having all these muddled feelings and it can help to share them with someone. Is there anyone you can think of that you might be happy to talk to about how you feel?  Or would you like me to find someone?

A range of emotional responses in a teenager to the death of someone close to them is not unusual, but if you are worried about their behaviour or think their responses or potentially harmful, it is important to get some help.

Your teenager may also find it helpful to look at our resources on support for bereaved young people.

Visit our page: How we can support you for more on our services.

You can also call our Helpline 0800 02 888 40, email [email protected], or use Live Chat on our website.