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Long-term Effects of Losing a Parent as a Teenager

sad-faced teenager girl being consoled as she deals with the long term effects of losing a parent as a teenager

You’re never ready for the loss of a parent, no matter what age you are. Losing a parent as a teenager is even more difficult because teens are still highly dependent on their parents for emotional support. If a young person you know is struggling with grief, they might benefit from our adolescent trauma therapy program. Call Imagine Boise today at 888.597.2807 for more information.

How the Loss of a Parent Affects a Teen

Children depend on their parents for love, guidance, safety, and essential needs. When a parent dies, all aspects of life become uncertain. Surviving family members may need to move or make drastic changes to their lifestyles.

The remaining parent, siblings, grandparents, and other family members are also grieving and may not be as emotionally available as their teen needs them to be. Many adults don’t have the skills to help the younger members of their families process their grief in healthy ways.

Surviving parents may avoid difficult conversations because they believe it’s in their child’s best interests. In truth, an adolescent’s ability to cope with grief is greatly influenced by the coping mechanisms that are modeled to them.

One study available in the National Library of Medicine found that losing a parent can increase a teen’s risk for developing long-term mental health concerns such as anxiety, depression, and substance use disorder. 

The risk increases if the child does not receive adequate support during the stages of grief. Losing a parent can be traumatic, even if the child is not extremely close to the parent. Grief also impacts a teen’s physical health. They may complain of bodily aches and pains more frequently than they express their emotional pain.

There may also be a gender component to the impact of losing a parent as a teenager. Girls who lose mothers and boys who lose fathers appear to be more deeply impacted by grief. 

How the Stages of Grief for Teenagers Differ from Adults

You may be familiar with the stages of grief as identified by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. Kübler-Ross studied the grief process and recognized that many people go through five stages while processing the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

During these stages of grief, many teenagers show distinct behaviors:

  • Denial: Teens might deny they have any difficult feelings or that anything of note has happened
  • Anger: Teens may express their anger as disrespect, violence, or experimentation with drugs and alcohol
  • Bargaining: Teens may begin to ask questions about life, religion, or their family’s spiritual beliefs
  • Depression: Teens are at risk for developing clinical depression or repressing their emotions
  • Acceptance: Teens may appear to reach acceptance quickly, but they could be hiding their feelings

Every person deals with the intense feelings of grief differently. These stages are not concrete but should be taken as more of a guideline for grief support. Adults and teens might skip stages or circle back around and experience certain stages more than once. 

What Is Normal During the Stages of Grief for Teenagers?

It is normal for children to feel a variety of emotions when a parent dies. They may feel guilty, angry, or resentful. Some teens lose their appetites and cry easily, while others become stoic and attempt to care for everyone else’s needs. All of these behaviors, and more, are normal reactions to a distressing situation.

Find Support at Imagine Boise

Regardless of the status of the relationship, losing a parent is one of the most difficult things a young person will ever face. If you know a teen who needs support coping with the stages of grief, losing a parent, or dealing with other traumatic life events, call Imagine Boise today at 888.597.2807 or reach out online.