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How to Help Your Teenager Cope with Death

A teenager talking with an adult

Talk openly with your teen about death, encourage them to seek support from others, and model healthy grieving to support them.

The death of a loved one is a stressful and sad time for all members of a family. During these difficult times, it is important to know how best to support your teenager.

Many different care providers can help your teenager deal with the death of a friend or family member. They include:

Teens are at risk for complicated mourning. If you think your teen needs help dealing with their grief, talk with a member of your teen’s care team.

How teens react to death

Keep these things in mind as you talk with your teen about death:

  • Teens typically have a full understanding of death.
  • If the person who dies is close in age to your teenager, they may be faced with the reality that not everyone lives until they are old.
  • Your teen may begin to take on more responsibilities. They may feel the need to be strong and care for others.
  • They may show a wide range of feelings and emotions. Or they may show no emotion at all.
  • They might act indifferent to death to protect themselves.
  • They might begin to question their religion or spiritual beliefs.

Common reactions

These are some of the most common reactions teenagers have to the death of a loved one:

  • Anxiety
  • Crying
  • Denial
  • Guilt
  • Withdrawal
  • Anger
  • Drop in grades
  • Acting younger than their age
  • Risk taking
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Assuming more responsibilities and adult roles
  • Critical toward decisions made by friends
  • Feeling different than peers
  • Increase in conflict with friends and family

Some of these reactions may lead you to believe that your teenager is suffering from depression. Depression occurs when these issues last for several weeks and cause a big change in routine.

If you believe that your teen is suffering from depression, make an appointment for them to speak with a psychologist or counselor.

Ways to help

  • Be there for your teen.
  • Encourage your teen to seek support from others, such as a counselor or pastor. But be careful not to push too hard.
  • Relieve your teen of the burden of adult responsibilities.
  • Model healthy grieving.
  • Offer your teenager books and journals that address teen grief. You can find these at your local library or bookstore. 

Key Points

  • Your teen likely has a full understanding of what death is and what it means.
  • Talk with your teen about the loss, encourage them to seek support from others, and model healthy grieving to support them.
  • If you notice signs of depression, make an appointment with psychologist or counselor for them.

Reviewed: August 2022