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Five Steps To Help A Grieving Teen

WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As if adolescence is not difficult enough, a teen's life becomes even more complex when a father, mother or other significant person dies. It's a life-shattering experience faced by one in 10 children before the age of 18. While all young people struggle with such losses, teenagers often have a particularly difficult time adjusting after the death of a loved one.

Teens often try to mask their grief to avoid appearing vulnerable, especially males who are taught from an early age to hide their emotions. Teens will go to great lengths not to appear different from their peers. On the outside they may act nonchalant, but inside they may feel deep pain, sorrow and fear. Sometimes teens may even take on the role of caregiver to family members or friends, serving only to ignore their own grief.

No matter how hard a parent or another adult tries to reach out, teens often trust only their friends. They believe that only people their age can understand what they are going through and feel more comfortable communicating with people in their own age group.

Because teens are most open to fellow teens, one approach to providing help is through peers. Peer counseling is now an elective course in many schools. Peer counselors are trained to look at life's problems on a personal level and then explore ways to help their peers.  These counselors are introduced to difficult situations that may occur in young people's lives, and speakers are brought in to teach them about coping strategies.

Peer counseling can play a critical role in opening communication with bereaved classmates and friends, as well as guiding them to professional help if needed. The young counselors learn the basics about depression, grief, communicating with parents and other adults and about the warning signs of suicide. They also learn their limitations while being assured of the support and expertise of their peer counseling teachers.

To break through and gain the trust of a grieving teen, parents and other adults should follow five simple steps:

  1. Listen nonjudgmentally and be present;
  2. Express interest in their views, their ideas and thoughts, and in them;
  3. Show them that you like and care for them;
  4. Support their ideas or gently introduce new ways to approach their ideas;  
  5. Acknowledge their grief, as well as your own, and offer your thoughts of how to cope during the grieving process.

Hospice Foundation of America has a number of resources available on its website: A recent educational program, "Living with Grief: Helping Adolescents Cope with Loss," focuses exclusively on the issues that adolescents face as they cope with loss. The program explores the ways that educators, healthcare workers, hospices, social workers, counselors, clergy, funeral directors, and other professionals can assist adolescents as they cope with loss.

Working with teens can be both challenging and rewarding — challenging because you need to break into their world and develop a trusting relationship, and rewarding because of the pleasure you will have in being a confidante to their concerns. Using the five steps listed earlier, you may see those frowns and stares gradually replaced more typical teen behavior. Yet always remember that you should get professional help right away if a teen is exhibiting concerning behavior, including but not limited to talk of suicide or worthlessness, drug and alcohol use, or eating disorders that are more than a temporary loss of appetite.

The author, Amy Tucci, is president and CEO of Hospice Foundation of America.

Contact: Brian Ruberry
[email protected]

SOURCE Hospice Foundation of America

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