As parents, we always want to protect our children from any kind of harm. But as they grow up, teens become independent (as they should) and have lives of their own. But when tragedy strikes we need to be there to listen and support them.
One of the greatest tragedies is the sudden death of another teen. In Metro Atlanta it happens more often than parents are aware. Spring and summer bring the gorgeous weather, more time with friends driving around and possibly more risky activities. In fall and winter stress seems to build and depression is more common. Unfortunately, too many teens in the Metro area are familiar with the grief process after losing a friend to a car accident or suicide.
Here’s the process we need to allow our kids to go through:
• shock or denial and disbelief
• anger and questioning why
• depression and sadness
This process is unique for each person and may depend on how close they were to the teen that died; any guilt they may have; their support network of friends; and age and maturity level. As painful as it is to watch our kids hurt so bad, it’s necessary for them to go through the process in their own time, in their own way. As parents we have to remember that grieving is a process, not an event.
An East Cobb high school recently went through this process when a student committed suicide. Although not everyone knew the teen who committed suicide, most students were touched in some way by his death. One teen found herself in the role of a listener to the boy’s close friend. Fortunately she had the maturity to listen on many days following his death and offer a hug. She was also fortunate to have her own close friends to confide in and release her sadness. School counselors and administrators allowed students to organize days to wear a certain color to honor the teen. One student sold bracelets with the boy’s name. Each student is dealing with grief on their own terms with adults around to help.
As a parent, the best thing you can do is listen. Allow your child to express their feelings in any way that’s appropriate. That might be screaming in a pillow, kicking boxes, going for a long run, eating too much (but watch the bingeing), or wanting to be alone. If any of these things go on for too long, especially bingeing and alone time, it might be time for professional help.
Since teens do grieve in a different way from adults peer groups are so important. This doesn’t mean an organized group; it means allowing your teen a little more freedom with friends during this time. This can help them get through the denial stage into questioning and on to acceptance.
We can provide guidance and we have to keep our eye on teens while they are grieving. A suicide might trigger another suicide if a teen feels guilt. Parents need to know the warning signs and when to step in and get professional help for a child.
Here’s some advice from a Marietta teen who has been through tragedy: “Know when to, like, keep it down. That doesn’t mean forget what happened. That means don’t always focus on it. Always keep it in the back of your mind, but don’t always focus on it. “
If your teen has been through a tragedy, here are some places to start looking for help and other resources: