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5 Thoughts On Walking With Teenagers Through Their Grief


Maybe it's already happened. If not it will. You will be called on to help students deal with grief. It could be due to a tragedy in your youth group, or perhaps the death of a teenager in your community. The grief could come from the death of a family member or the close friend of a student.

Whatever the situation, you will be called on to help the student through the grieving process.

Here are a few things to keep in mind that might help you as you guide a teenager through this very difficult time in life.


1. There's No One Size Fits All

All teenagers handle grief differently. Many people will tell a student to expect to "feel this" and "experience that" but I've found the best thing is to tell the student to move at their pace. Encourage them to cry if they want to, but not to feel bad if they don't. Help them feel good about being silent, or about seeking out laughter. However they choose to process, it's important they feel the freedom to grieve in their way and in their time.


2. It's Always Personal

Keep the “why" and the "who” in mind at all times. The more tragic the death, such as suicide or some other unexpected situation, and the closer the student was to the person who died, the deeper the hurt.


3. A Little Knowledge Never Hurt Anyone

Read up on the Kubler-Ross five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. While they aren't set in stone (see point 2 above), they are valuable in helping you help your student.


4. Do You Really Understand?

Students seem not to like it when people tell them they know what they're feeling. Unless you've lost someone close to you in a similar situation, simply tell the student you love them and will pray for them, and that you hurt with them.


5. Teenagers Are Resilient

Don't be surprised if the student moves ahead quickly. My experience has been that teenagers are pretty resilient after losing someone close to them.

There are many opportunities available for you to be professionally trained in helping people deal with grief. Check online or with your local mental health professionals for seminars or workshops in your area. Whether professionally trained or not, your presence and availability as their youth pastor or youth worker will be valuable in helping the student sort through all the emotions and feelings that come when dealing with loss.

What has been your experience in this area? What would you add to the list?

About the Author

Richard Parker

Richard Parker has been a student minister for the past thirty-three years, serving at First Baptist Church in Russellville, AL since 1989. He has written a three volume set of Character Education curriculum for schools and has written “Character,” a year long devotional book for students. Richard speaks in schools as well as at various church and civic conferences.

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Thanks for writing about this very important topic. I agree that it's important to have some knowledge about the process of grief. I did some research myself after a student of mine committed suicide...The famous Kubler-Ross stages however have been researched extensively and proven to be faulty. That's no surprise, because Kubler-Ross never developed these for grief over a lost one, but for people having to deal with their own looming death, namely terminal ill patients. Current research has come to completely different conclusions about the process of grief, notably that there's no linear process of grief and that 'acceptance' which Kubler-Ross deemed so important isn't actually an issue for most people. Also, the common idea that people need to express their grief isn't actually true, research shows that it's sometimes healthier to suppress grief than express it. Our bodies and minds have a way of protecting us this way from what we can't handle (yet). Just wanted to point this out to you!
by: Rachel Blom May 11, 2012 2:35 am
I have dealt with 6 student deaths in our community over the last 2 years. (2 accidents, 1 cancer, 1 murdered, 1 unexpected medical condition, 1 car wreck). I would add the following: 6. Don't underestimate who a death will effect or the reason behind their response. I often find that a single death triggers all sorts of grief within students. This results in lots of students who don't or just marginally know the student that passed away being very upset. This grief is often not for this specific student and therefore: -->Use the opportunity to open up the conversation. Don't assume it is really this death that they are grieving over. It could be other deaths that this reminds them of, regrets from things they did to the deceased, personal abuse they are suffering, parents who are not involved in their lives etc. -->Those close to the student who died will see the others grief as fake or self-serving resulting in hate. Often, I talk openly with the best friends about this feeling to help prepare and temper their response to these other students. 7. Help Students through the process. Often students do not know what to expect. Some have never gone through death or seen someone who is dead. Help explain what they will see and hear but don't speculate about what happened or why. 8. Help the Families of the Deceased regardless of your previous connection to them. Not sure how to state this fully but none of the 6 students who passed away that I have dealt with in the last 2-3 years were involved in our ministry (although a few had attended on occasion). Because of my relationships with the local schools and the number of students in my ministry that each impacted, I was able to get to know their families and minister to them. One consistent thread I have seen during these times is that often families need help with managing the situation. Students grieving in mass often overwhelm the close family and friends of the deceased. Many times, families need you to step in. Make sure as you do this to continually get the families permission and what they want. Offer help and support. Gauge their irritation levels to the students. Provide times for them to have moments. In addition, I have also dealt with media twice because of the situations surrounding the death. If you do handle media, make sure to not do interviews. They can come back to bite you and if there is controversy you will want to be able to minister to all students not just one side of the story.
by: Paul Rhodes May 17, 2012 9:27 pm