Jennifer R. Levin, MFT, PhD
Director of Adolescent and Teen Grief at Glendale Adventist Medical Center
Children, Adolescents and Teens understand and experience grief very differently and if unprocessed can have a profound impact on their childhood and adult lives. Children, adolescents and teens each differ in their understanding of death and loss depending on their emotional and physiological developmental stages. The death of a loved one, especially a parent or guardian, sibling, grandparent or even a pet is almost always a traumatic experience for youth and can negatively impact physical and mental health, school work and relationships with friends.
Children, adolescents and teens grieve differently
By nature, children, adolescents and teens are immersed in social settings where they are expected to emotionally grow and academically succeed. When a young adult is coping with grief they are reminded on daily basis of the loss and differences they face compared to their peers. School age children are very concerned with fitting in and grieving children are likely to feel different and very alone. Milestones such as birthdays, first days of school, graduations, school events and parent-child activities all serve to highlight their loss and the pain associated with being different from their peers. These perceived differences may contribute to isolation, sadness, depression, anger, poor academic performance and decreased interpersonal relationships.
Younger children often struggle with the permanence of death and use play as an outlet to express their grief. Adolescent and teens are more likely to fear additional loss and act out in school, isolate from friends and stop engaging in pleasurable activities. Young adults tend to experience intense feelings of grief in shorter durations. Rather than remain sad or angry for an extended period children may transition back and forth from “seeming fine” to outwardly struggling. These grief behaviors among children, adolescents and teens may be difficult for adults to interpret. When grieving children engage in periods of laughter or play, adults may mistakenly believe the child is no longer grieving and that intervention or support is not needed.
The benefits of therapeutic services for youth
Individual therapy and/or adolescent and teen support groups are proven and effective healing tools. Treatment focuses on reestablishing a sense of normalcy and combines playful activities with coping skills and a chance to express emotions in a supportive environment. Children, adolescents and teens learn how to reconnect and fit it while they have an opportunity to explore their thoughts without worrying about the surviving adults in their lives. Treatment increases self-esteem and self-confidence and can reduce long term negative behaviors such as acting out or engaging in self-harm or other unhealthy coping mechanisms.
For more information about support group services and therapy for adolescents and teens offered at Glendale Adventist Medical Center contact Jennifer Levin, PhD, MFT at 626-695-4211.