Better Understanding Your Teenager’s Grief

At Liahona Academy, a therapeutic boarding school that helps troubled teenagers, we recognize that there is a collective grief over the loss of lives, jobs and time that has been caused by COVID-19. That is why at our school, we spend time processing the pandemic with our teens.

We understand that Ignoring the role of a pandemic as a cause of grief is highly detrimental in healing from that grief. In Braving the Wilderness, the famous researcher and social worker Dr. Brene Brown writes,

“An experience of collective pain does not deliver us from grief or sadness; it is a ministry of presence. These moments remind us that we are not alone in our darkness and that our broken heart is connected to every heart that has known pain since the beginning of time.”

As some teenagers grieve the loss of their loved ones, you need to remember that even if they haven’t lost a loved one to the pandemic, they still might be grieving things like the memories they could have and the time that’s been lost. Their grief might also be heightened due to physical distancing and isolation.

That being said, your teen’s grief might also show up in ways that you can’t understand and might not know how to respond to. This is what this article will help you better understand: the why and how to support your teen during times of grief.

How A Teenager Might Cope with Grief and How to Respond

There are many ways teens may respond to grief but here are the two most common responses.

Shutting Down and Tuning You Out

The truth is that your teen is in the process of trying to explore their identity (as with many teens their age). One way that they explore their identity is by trying to figure things out for themselves. So, when a teen is grieving, they might react to your attempts to connect with them by isolating themselves or by refusing to communicate how they truly feel. They might just tell you that they’re “okay” and don’t need your help.

How to Respond to a Teen Isolating Themselves

According to the Gottman Institute, one of the leading institution in couples and family therapy, instead of always attempting to forge connections with your teen, one of the ways that you can connect with your teen or loved one is by identifying bids to connect.
Bids to connect might be statements, actions or things that a teen does to get you to pursue a conversation or action with them. So, a simple statement from your teen such as, “I miss hanging out with my friends and hate being isolated” might be a good opportunity to connect with them.

Engaging in Self-Harming Behaviors

Because teens have a more difficult time with emotional regulation and are impulsive, they may engage in self-harming behaviors like cutting themselves, developing or increasing the consumption of illicit or over-the-counter drugs, and they may develop or amplify existing eating disorders. For example, research on eating disorders suggests that many individuals use food as a means of gaining control during times of uncertainty.

How to Respond to A Teen Aging in Self-Harming Behavior

If you suspect a teen is engaged in self-harm, encourage them to see a mental health professional. Simply ignoring the problem or thinking that it’s temporary will not make it disappear.

Do You Really Want to Really Help Your Troubled Teen?

Contacting a Therapeutic Boarding School such as us at Liahona Treatment Center can be beneficial to not only you, but your family as well. We’re here to help you and your teen in the process of healing!

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