First, I feel that I should give a disclaimer: I am far from an expert on parenting in the teenage years. My knowledge base on the subject comes from being a teenager myself, reading a couple books, and raising a teen for a few years.
Along with the tremendous physical changes that occur during adolescence, there are two things I have noticed happening through the teen years.
The first is the lifting of the protective veil of an only happy and good world. As our children get older, they will experience difficult things in life: suffering, consequences of sin, and living in a fallen world.
The second is that teens become—or want to become—independent thinkers (which is a kind way of saying that they think they know almost everything). However, they have not fully developed the reasoning skills or capability to see the big picture in the early to mid-teen years.
Consequently, parenting teens, especially when they face a difficult circumstance, becomes a balancing act of providing godly guidance, advice, and support while at the same time giving them the time and space to sort through their emotions independently. Nowhere is this balancing act more apparent than with the death of a loved one.
Through the weeks and months that followed the death of a young person who was dear to our family, God showed me some simple ways to help my teen cope with the loss of a friend.
7 Ways to Help a Teen Who Has Lost a Loved One
1. Give your teen God’s Word.
Saturate them with Scripture in as many ways as possible. Give them devotions, text them Scriptures, encourage them to continue or begin their personal Bible study. Help them to learn and understand that in difficult times, comfort and peace comes from God’s Word. Here are some examples of encouraging references to share:
- 2 Corinthians 1:4 › Comfort
- John 14:27 › Peace
- Joshua 1:9 › Strength, God is with you
- Psalm 71:1-6 › God is our sovereign refuge
2. Accept without criticism the form of communication that your teen uses to share the news or any of his or her feelings.
We may not like it that our child chooses to inform us about the death of their friend or ask questions about eternity through text, but many teens feel more comfortable sharing through technology. To a teen, texting is a common, acceptable, and (most importantly to them) comfortable form of communication. Allow texting communication initially, but very quickly make sure to incorporate in personal conversations.
For some teens, a conversation near bedtime or while taking a neighborhood stroll in the evening makes them feel more comfortable about sharing their feelings. Understand that death is a difficult subject matter and that teens may find it extremely hard to initially speak the words in person or make eye contact while discussing the topic.
The point is to accept your teen’s initial form of communication, then to deepen the conversation, and then to consistently keep a check on how your child is processing the tragedy.
3. Make sure teens understand that the death is not their fault.
Sometimes the death of a loved one can create feelings of guilt in a surviving teen, especially if it is a death of close family member such as a parent or sibling and if the cause of death was an accident or suicide.
In these cases, it is common for teens to feel as if they should have or could have done more to prevent the death of their friend or family member. Teens may feel this sense of guilt regardless of the actual circumstances surrounding the death.
This burden of guilt is too big for our teens to shoulder nor is it one that they should have to carry. Tell them it is not their fault—more than once or twice.
Remind your teen that God knows the number of days a person will live and that He has a purpose for the days of each person’s life, no matter how long or short. Job 14:5 is a good Scripture to reference.
Since his days are determined, the number of his months is with You;
and his limits You have set so that he cannot pass.
• Job 14:5 • NASB •
4. Encourage your teen to attend the wake or service.
With the loss of a loved one who is not a family member, attending a memorial service or wake is one way your teen can work through grief with other people who share in the loss. Not only does attending a service help your teen cope with the loss on a personal level, your teen’s presence is also an encouragement to a hurting family.
Go with your child and pick up a mutual friend on the way. Tell them they can stay 5 minutes or the whole time and that any amount of time is okay. Be there, give them the time they need, and tell them to signal when they are ready to leave.
5. Give a memorial gift.
When a loved one passes away, people commonly want to do or give something in honor of the person not only as a way to comfort to the family but also as a comfort to themselves since they feel like they are doing something to help.
Teens are the same way and can feel this same impulse, so involve your teen in the decision-making process of what to do to honor the loved one.
6. Share a written memory.
A card with a shared memory is meaningful to the family, and it also allows your teen to take the time to reflect and communicate his or her feelings in written form. This process can help tremendously in the grieving process to think through, express, and share memories in written form.
If your teen does not feel comfortable sharing thoughts with another person or circumstances do not make sharing appropriate, journaling is another option for helping your teen to articulate feelings and preserve memories.
7. Recognize if your teen needs additional help.
The grief of death is hard to process at any age, but especially as a young person. We are not bad parents if we need to bring in someone else to help our teen through this difficult time. Likewise, our teens are not emotionally weak if they need counseling.
Christian counselors and/or pastors are equipped to aid and support our teens as they process their grief, and we don’t need to let pride stand in the way of seeking outside help.