Grief is an unavoidable part of life. No matter what you do, grief will find you.


Although loss is a universal experience, there are considerable differences in how people grieve- this is especially true with teenagers. Although teenagers are aware of the emotional impact and long term implications of losing someone close to them, their reactions to death are often very intense. This is due to puberty, and hormonal-, and developmental changes. As parents and professionals, in order to help grieving teenagers cope with death, we must first understand what they might be experiencing.

What they might experience:

Shock, denial, anger, depression, and avoidance are all feelings associated with loss and grief. Grieving teenagers might also experience the following:

– Have difficulty managing these strong emotions. Often becoming angry and ending up in physical fights.

– Revert back to childish behaviours to feel more safe.

– Get involved in risky behaviours to distract themselves from the grief.

– Try to assume the role of an adult.

– Bottle up their emotions.

– Avoid their friends because they now feel different and think their friends won’t understand.

– Have difficulty concentrating on school work and other important things, such as extra curricular activities.

– Have an existential crisis- questioning their faith and understanding of the world. – Seek support outside their immediate family.

How to help teenagers cope with death:

With every teenager being different, it is sometimes difficult to know how to help an adolescent cope with grief. Just like adults, teenagers differ from one another and cope in their own unique ways. Some may get upset and lash out to relieve themselves, while others might begin withdrawing themselves or use humor to cope with their grief.

For as many ways that there exist to deal with grief, there are just as many solutions to help teenagers cope with a loss and the grief that follows:

– Strive to keep normalcy in their lives (Any “special treatment” might cause the teenager to feel like an outsider).

– Let them know it’s okay to prefer to talk to, and spend time with friends or people outside of the immediate family.

– Reassure them that they are loved, supported, and that they are not alone.
– Gently encourage them to open up, express their emotions and share how they are feeling. – Play follow the leader (Be a companion, rather than a leader in their grieving journey).

– Know when to get them help. When a teenager asks for help, be supportive and congratulate them on being brave enough to admit they need help. Find out whether your teen would prefer support groups or talking to a professional, like a counsellor or psychologist.

Who can help?

Teenagers can be resistant to conversations with their parents even at the best of times. Therefore, it is important not to pressure them to talk to you as a parent or immediate family member about their loss and grief. Some teenagers prefer to talk to someone outside of their immediate family and it is important to encourage them to do so if they feel like it. At last, that is the most important goal- to get them to talk about their feelings and share their emotions, no matter who they choose to do that with.

The following are some options to discuss with your grieving teenager if they want to talk to someone outside of their immediate family:

– A trusted friend, family friend, or extended-family member. – Support groups for teenagers.
– A grief counsellor (At school, church, or in private practice). – A psychologist.

Make sure that your grieving teenager knows how important it is to share their feelings and emotions with someone, and that there are many options of different people to talk to about their loss and grief.


Each year, thousands of teenagers feel the overwhelming loss of someone who in one way or another helped shape their developing self-identities. When that happens, the feelings about the death and how they are handled by parents, teachers, and peers are remembered and become part of their lives forever. When coping with grief, there will be good days, and there will be bad days. Being there for the teen during the light and the dark will help them understand that life is going to be full of ups and downs, but that there are people who care for them, and that it is important to take care of themselves.

The Author: Shanice Prinsloo (Humanitas Intern)

Here is a little bit more about her: 

In 2022, I completed my Honours degree in Psychology at the North-West University. Thereafter, I decided it’s time for me to start gaining some practical experience before pursuing my Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology.

I am currently working to complete my practical hours required for registration with the ASCHP. I truly have a passion for helping people (especially children and adolescents), and equipping them with the right tools to effectively cope with the many ups and downs of life.

Fred Rogers, said: “When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary”. Therefore, I believe that every individual, broken or not, can benefit from counselling.