What Can I Do to help my teen?
One of the hardest things we can do is to try to help someone who may not even be sure they need it, OR they may feel so helplessly overwhelmed they aren’t sure WHAT they feel or why they are even feeling that way. Here are some thoughts from teenbiblelessons.com on just how we can do that.
You must boldly enter into their grief with them. You might be terrified that you’ll say the wrong thing, and you might, but, blubbering and crying is never wrong. Listen and cry. Be slow to offer any answers at first. Ask the questions with them. Come before God with your questions, disbelief, and even anger in prayer.
Acknowledge their pain.
Even if the kids were only mildly acquainted they will feel like this was their best friend and it’s happening mostly to them. It would be easy at this moment to start feeling annoyed instead of feeling empathetic, but remember, even though they may not have been as close as you think, you are still able to help them to learn how to process grief in a healthy way for when it may matter MOST. This may be the first time death has struck close to home. Let them dive into their feelings but keep an eye out for them taking this too far. If needed, you might have to gently apply a dose of reality to shake them out of it.
Students LOVE to “do something”
Turning their grief into concrete actions is a good step to take. For instance, you may have a balloon release. The balloons carried their thoughts, Bible verses, and good byes on little notes or stickers. Make a plaque or a memorial to the person to have in your youth room or space. Some churches have a memorial garden, this would make an ideal place for a bench or something tangible for them to associate the friend.
In Disappointment with God, Yancey tackles the questions caused by a God who doesn’t always do what we think he’s supposed to do. Insightful and deeply personal, Yancey points to the odd disparity between our concept of God and the realities of life. "Why, if God is so hungry for relationship with us, does he seem so distant?" "Why, if he cares for us, do bad things happen?" "What can we expect from him after all?" Yancey answers these questions with clarity, richness, and biblical assurance.
Help your student, and others you have access to by allowing them to ask and answering what might be the most important questions they can ask about their faith and beliefs about God during a time like this. Kids will need to have answers to the deep questions that the death of someone close brings up. “What Happens When You Die? ,” “Why do bad things happen to good people?”, “Doesn’t God love me?”, “Am I being punished?”, “Can’t God protect me from evil?”, “If He can, why didn’t He?”, Is God responsible for evil?”, “Can a person who commits suicide go to heaven?”
Kids will ask you these loaded questions. If you give them the same old platitudes “God is able” or “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” kind of answers they will turn you off and mistrust whatever you’re teaching. If, on the other hand, you prepare a Biblically supported answer, whether it’s a tough answer or not, they will grow to trust you and appreciate your lessons. The point is to tell the kids the truth, hopefully using the Bible as your foundation.
Tips For Helping Them in Practical Ways
Acknowledge their grief
As I have mentioned in other posts, a lot of teens just want the acknowledgement that what they are going through is difficult. Although you may not completely understand their pain or what they’re going through, you can be present for them as they explore their grief.
Let Them Talk
A lot of times just getting teens to talk through their grief will act as a release valve for a lot of what they are feeling. If they are reluctant to to talk about their grief, just getting them to talk in general may help them to transition into more meaningful conversation. For example: What is your favorite memory of __________ or DO you remember how you first met?
Also, you can learn a lot about what a teenager is going through by taking a step back and letting them lead the conversation. Being an active listener to a your teen means focusing on what they’re saying without letting your mind race into thoughts of how you’ll respond to their concerns.
Encourage them to ask questions
When talking to your student be sure that you are patient, understanding, and that you are open-minded about what they are saying. Even though you may be shocked by some of their revelations, try not to act out in a way that may cause them to shut down or feel like they cannot share without fear of reprisal. Encourage them to open up about their difficult questions.
Engage in physical activities
Exercise is a perfect way to let out some of the stress associated with grief. A teenager who’s lashing out in anger or has fallen into depression may benefit from engaging in physical activity.
Consider joining them for a day out at the park to shoot some hoops or going on a hike. You can also try some healing water activities such as kayaking and canoeing. Expect to have to nudge your teen a bit into taking part in this type of outing, especially if they aren’t handling their grief so well. In time, they’ll start looking forward to your special days out as a way to heal from their pain.
Give them an outlet
Every teenager’s grief is unique. You can help prepare them for the emotions that they’ll be experiencing as they learn to cope with their loss. Offer them an outlet for their pain by encouraging and suggesting journaling, talking with a counselor, a prayer journal, or even youth group. Keep an eye on them as you encourage and continue to suggest different ways of helping them cope.
Structured routines are essential to maintain when a teenager’s been affected by loss. Especially if this may be one of their first experiences with loss, death, and bereavement, AND they may have trouble processing their grief. It’s essential during this time to maintain their routine as closely as possible to what it was before their loss. At least try to maintain the most basic ones until there needs to be a shift to accommodate any changed conditions.
Maintaining discipline and setting limits are also important during this time. Relaxing household or parenting rules may seem like the best thing to do for a grieving child, but doing so may confuse them. They may start lashing out in anger. A changed routine is also registered as a loss. It may give them comfort to recognize some of the everyday routines they’re used to instead of dealing with numerous changes all at once.
YOU GOT THIS!
Getting a teenager through their grief may be challenging, but it’s not impossible. You’ll need to develop a thick skin and prepare yourself for unexpected grief reactions such as withdrawal, anger, substance abuse, and lashing out. All of these are typical responses to loss and suffering.
With patience, love, and support, your teen can successfully get through their grief.
Here are some other great books and resources:
Pastor Mark’s BLOGS
BOOKS that can help
When Kids Hurt: Help for Adults Navigating the Adolescent Maze by Chap Clark
My Friend is Struggling with the Death of a Loved One by Josh McDowell
Youth Worker’s Guide to Helping Teenagers in Crisis by Rich Vanpelt & Jim Hancock