Grief Series Part 3: Grief in Teens and Young Adults

By Cindy Roe and Marie-Lise Baroutjian

NY Project Hope is a crisis counseling program that provides support and resources to help people cope with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Given the pervasiveness of the Covid pandemic, people everywhere have experienced loss- and for many, multiple losses- in a wide variety of new and unexpected ways over the past year.  And while the price of any loss can include feeling distraught, overwhelmed, angry, or any other emotion that humans naturally feel and express during the grieving process, our ability to heal emotionally and move forward in our lives afterward is equally normal.  However, an important first step in order for us to get there is having a better understanding of not only our own grief relating to all that we’ve lost, but the grieving process as well.  In this third installation of our 5-part series on pandemic-related grief and loss, we’ll be building from our previous blogs in this series by discussing aspects of grief during adolescence and young adulthood.

The Tumultuous Teens

grouop of teensThe many milestones that typically occur during the teen and young adult years-such as getting a driver’s license, advancing into high school, graduations, proms, homecomings, romantic relationships, best friends, first jobs, marriage, and starting a family- can all be fodder for numerous fond memories that adolescents and young adults will carry forward with them throughout their lives.  However, just as it is for younger children, this stage of life is not altogether free of difficult times, so challenges and conflict can certainly erupt.

In the context of the parent/child relationship, for example, some degree of conflict is to be expected.  On the one hand, because the developmental work of forging their own identity drives within them a strong desire for personal independence, teens are busy with becoming their own person and forming close friendship and love relationships.  Thus, they’re naturally seeking to put some distance between themselves and their family, particularly their parents.  On the other hand, teens also have an equally strong desire for the comfort and security that their relationship with their parents was built upon.  When they need reassurance or guidance on something, they rely on this “emotional safety net”, or the knowledge that they can to check in with their parents whenever they need support.

The Grief Process

Given the far-reaching impact of the Covid pandemic, it seems safe to say that nearly everyone has experienced some type of loss since the virus was first discovered.  For teens and young adults, many of the above-mentioned milestones can also be instances when they experienced loss: graduation ceremonies in 2020 were nonexistent in the traditional sense; scores of weddings were postponed or downsized; and longstanding social distancing took a toll on countless romantic relationships and friendships.  The loss of human life from Covid was also on a scale that the world hasn’t seen in our lifetime, which carried with it unexpected changes to the way people could mourn the loss of their loved ones, with funerals available only for immediate family members that banned hugs between mourners, forced cremations, and limits on the size of post-funeral gatherings.  For teens who lost a parent to death during the Covid crisis, they suddenly find themselves without the key person in their lives who represented that emotional security discussed earlier, so it can be very hard for them and others who are supporting them to distinguish between emotions that directly relate to their grief and those derived from the normal trajectory of their development.

teens huggingAs with everyone except younger children, grief for adolescents and young adults also commonly alters between periods of coming to terms with the loss and dealing with its emotional impact, and the desire for a return to normalcy and moving on from the loss.  However, because teens are so consumed with the perceptions of others and their desire to conform to the expectations of their peers, they tend to think that no one else understands their grief.  This may drive them to dismiss or diminish the impact that the loss is having on them, and they may act like they’re disinterested in discussing it, or emphatically insist that they’re fine.  Consequently, they may try to suppress their feelings because they fear being perceived as being weird or emotionally out of control by others. Thus, their grief can present itself as confusion, loneliness and feelings of emptiness, changes in sleeping and eating, or feelings of exhaustion, while for others it may manifest as emotional withdrawal, aggressiveness, or substance use.

Want to Learn More?

Check out this video on grief and teens by our NY Project Hope team.

Likewise, check out our other videos and blogs for some tips and strategies for helping children cope with stress. Plus, the Crisis Counselors for NY Project Hope at Independent Living are always available to help, since sometimes it can be helpful to talk to someone you don’t know. Want to know more about how we can help?  Give us a call at 845-762-2275-talking to us is always free, voluntary, and confidential.

Visit Independent Living Inc on Facebook, Instagram, or on the web at for more blogs, tips and videos on stress management techniques and coping strategies. #iliprojecthope.

Cindy Roe and Marie-Lise Baroutjian are crisis counselors from Independent Living, Inc. working on with the NY Project Hope program.