Every individual reacts differently to the death of a loved one. There are no cookie-cutter characteristics. However, The Dougy Center for Grieving Children has identified a few common reactions that may be noticed in your teen (Dougy Center, 1999b, pp.18-25). These reactions may include but are not limited to:
It is difficult to concentrate during the early months of the grieving process. People commonly feel like they are in a fog. Parents Can Help: Talk to your teen's teachers and see if they can modify his or her assignments for at least a few months. A tutor or friend may help studying also.
Even though crying is one of the most common reactions to death, do not assume your teenager will or will not cry. Every person is different. Parents Can Help: Allow teenagers to feel safe to express any emotion. Be nonjudgmental and supportive.
Eating Problems and Disorders.
A teen may lose his or her appetite. This is normal. However, an eating problem during the grief process can develop into more serious eating disorders. Parents Can Help: Notice unusual behaviors in your teen's use of food such as: unwillingness to eat, withdrawal at meal times, bloodshot eyes, vomiting, preoccupation with losing weight, and thinning of the cheeks.
Nightmares and Dreams.
"Nightmares and dreams about the deceased are typical after a loss" (Dougy Center 1999b, p.20). However, it is important to be aware of frequent loss of sleep. Parents Can Help: You might ask: "Would you like me to leave you alone, or come sit with you?"; "Do you want your light on or off?"; or "Would you like to tell me about it, or not?"
There are many physical reactions that are considered normal during grief. Sometimes headaches, anxiety, insomnia, and digestive problems can become prolonged. Parents Can Help: If symptoms persist, seek medical advice. Allowing teenagers to talk freely about their grief and the deceased can also help a great deal.
Engaging in sports, various video and board games, movies, and hobbies can be healthy ways for teenagers to express their grief. Parents Can Help: Be supportive and play some games or plan special outings with your teen.
Reverting to younger behaviors can be a common grief behavior for children of all ages. Parents Can Help: Notice if your teen clings to people, becomes clumsy or timid, begins bed-wetting, stuttering, or playing immaturely. These are common and are no need of alarm unless they persist, in which case you should seek medical advice or counseling.
Struggling With Core Beliefs.
Death is many times "unfair" or "out of the proper order". This can cause teenagers to question core beliefs they once took for granted. Parents Can Help: Listen without talking. Allow anything to come out of their mouths without passing judgment.
Suicidal Talk or Behavior.
Even though it is common for teens to talk about joining the deceased and wishing they were dead, do not take it lightly. Parents Can Help: Ask the teenager directly if he or she has plans to take his or her own life. It is best to err on the side of caution in this case. "Not all young people who talk about suicide act on it, but most who complete suicide have talked about it with someone" (Dougy Center, 1999b. P. 23).