Discussing death with an adolescent

How to talk to an adolescent about death

Adolescents are old enough to understand that death means a major change or loss in their life and, similar to adults, many adolescents feel uncomfortable talking about death or dying, particularly the death of someone they love or are close to.

So, what do you tell them?


  • Respect their cognitive ability to understand the nature of death.
  • Provide accurate information about the death and the circumstances surrounding it.
  • Encourage them to ask questions and be truthful with your answers.

What reactions can you expect from adolescents?

The reactions of adolescents will vary considerably depending on their experience and maturity. Despite having an adult understanding of the concept of death they usually do not have the experiences, coping skills, or behaviour of an adult.

Any of the following reactions are possible:

  • They may act out in anger at family members or show impulsive or reckless behaviours, such as substance use, fighting in school, and sexual promiscuity.

  • They may experience a wide range of emotions but not know how to handle them or not feel comfortable talking about them.

  • They may question their faith or their understanding of the world.

  • They may not be receptive to support from adult family members because of their need to be independent and separate from parents.

  • They may cope by spending more time with friends or by withdrawing from the family to be alone.

Supporting grieving adolescents

Here are some tips and important points to remember when supporting an adolescent after the death of a family member or friend:

Let’s recap what you’ve learned so far

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