Adolescence is a time of significant change in the realms of physical, psychological and social domains. Adolescents that are transitioning to adulthood will commonly experience various challenges throughout their journey. For grieving adolescents, these challenges are often intensified and may be more difficult to navigate. Adolescents express and process grief in a variety of ways depending on various factors, including the context of bereavement, support systems, age and personality. The support of a parent, guardian or mentor is essential to guide bereaved adolescents and help them develop coping skills to help them navigate this challenging period.
Ordinarily, adolescents transitioning to adulthood may be led through scaffolded rites of passage. For bereaved adolescents, their transition period may lack guidance and stability. Thus, developing structure and routine is extremely important for adolescents to cope with the many changes throughout their journey. Developing structure for a bereaved adolescent will require careful consideration of their unique circumstances. Some bereaved adolescents may be more reliant or dependent on those around them, whilst others may have taken on larger responsibilities and assumed empty roles. No matter the circumstances, the transition will be difficult, and it is important to develop structure to enable both independence and stability.
Another beneficial tip to supporting bereaved adolescents in transitioning to adulthood is establishing clear boundaries together. Boundaries can help to foster trust and respect, and they are best established through active listening, open communication and negotiation. The process of establishing boundaries together will develop independence and informed decision-making, ensuring your adolescent feels safe and supported. Be aware that adolescents are more likely to be open and collaborative in setting boundaries if the conversation feels like a respectful negotiation. Maintaining an open line of communication is essential, especially throughout the time period where change is occurring. Bottling up feelings can be detrimental, so it is important to provide them with the space and permission to express their emotions and feelings.
It is important to ensure that adolescents bereaved by a significant loss have an adequate support system. They may feel the overwhelming loss of someone who helped shape their fragile self-identity. A counsellor, trusted adult, teacher, friends or close family members are some examples of individuals that are key figures that make up a support system for an adolescent. It is also important to consider that adolescents may move away from their existing support network, which will lead to them being geographically distant from their family and may result in changes to their friends. This change may be particularly challenging for bereaved adolescents as they are surrounded by different people in a different environment. It is important that adolescents maintain the support of caring, open, honest and loving adults over the period of transitioning to adulthood.
One of the most important ways to help a grieving adolescent transition to adulthood is offering them empathy and compassion. It is undeniable that the young adult years are a time of growth, change and challenge. Navigating this period whilst coping with a major loss can have a profound effect on a young person’s social functioning, physical and mental health, and development. Showing an adolescent that they are supported, understood and cared for as they embark on a journey of transition to adulthood is crucial.