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Loss and How Your Teen Responds to It

Everyone works through grief in different ways. But parents often struggle to understand how their teens respond to loss. In this article, I’ll explain why loss motivates your teen’s behavior and how you can help your teens work through the grieving process in a healthy way.

Loss is One of the Greatest Motivators for Behavior

Loss is the void that come from not getting what you want, what you need, or what you hope for. It’s the chasm in the heart caused by deprivation, failure to achieve, or a defeat; and it’s one of the greatest motivators. All behavior is goal oriented. So when a child does something, they’re doing it for a purpose. Oftentimes teens do what they do––good or bad––because they’ve experienced some kind of loss. In recent years, many teens have experienced the loss of school, friends, events, and other critical milestones. It would be a mistake to dismiss their loss as insignificant, or to assume because they’re young they’ll just get over it.

You and Your Teen Might Respond to Loss in Different Ways

Just because you grieve in a certain way, doesn’t mean your teen will do the same. Even if you and your teen are struggling through the same loss––the death of a family member, a move, or a divorce––you will react differently. That should be expected and is perfectly normal.

Parents are often surprised by the significant impact a seemingly “minor” loss can have on a teen. What seems “small” to you, may be a big deal to your teen! For example, a breakup with a girlfriend or boyfriend is profound. While you may think it’s something to get over, a breakup feels like rejection to your teen. On top of that, everyone in your teen’s world knows about it; and they put pressure on your teen, at school and through social media, to perform and react in demonstrable ways. As a result, a small loss can quickly be amplified.

Here Are Some Ways Your Teen Might Act After Experiencing Loss

Parents need to stop focusing on how to control their teen’s bad behavior. They should also not expect their teens to deal with loss perfectly. It’s not unusual for teens to fill the emptiness of a loss with things that don’t last, or to seek escape from their feelings with drugs and drinking. Your job is to get beyond the behavior and speak to the heart of the issue.

Here’s How You Can Respond to Your Teen’s Loss (and Subsequent Behavior)

Talk to your teen. Be willing to enter his world, ask what’s going on, and uncover the hurt he’s experiencing. Try asking questions like: How does that make you feel? What does it feel like to be rejected by somebody else? Do you think it’s a good thing that you broke up? These conversations can be difficult, but they also will encourage your teen to think deeply and uncover the hurt their experiencing. Don’t wait until your teen is getting ready to leave home to talk about loss. The time is right now! Create a strong relationship well in advance, so that when loss happens, you have a foundation for conversations and a platform for influence.

If We Allow Him, God Can Use Our Loss for Good

I’ve seen it happen time and time again. One of the greatest acts God performs for the person who experiences loss, is to fill the voids and chasms created by loss. He enters into the hurt and offers freedom when we have a relationship with Him. If you’ve experienced God’s restoration after a loss, then share your story with your teen, in an appropriate way. Your “God story” will help your teen see the light at the end of a dark tunnel. On the flip side, if you never share your experience with loss, then you teen will likely never look deeper than their own behavior. Tell your teen how God can take what was meant for evil and use it for good.


Hey moms and dads …. I believe that losses are a teen’s greatest motivator. Perhaps what they once had is gone, and what they thought they would have, never materialized, or something they hoped for was never fulfilled. Loss is the chasm in the heart caused by deprivation, failure to achieve something, or possibly a defeat that was experienced. It’s the hollowness one is unable to overcome, the pit of loneliness that remains when something has been taken away. Your teen’s behavior may be motivated to fill a void or to replace something that’s been lost. The moods of a lifetime are often far down in the all-but-forgotten events of childhood––good and bad. Find out what’s driving your teen’s behavior and you’ll be able to get to the heart of the issue.

Author: Mark Gregston

Mark Gregston began working with teens more than 40 years ago as a youth minister and Young Life director. He has authored nearly two dozen books, has written hundreds of articles, and is host of the nationally-acclaimed Parenting Today’s Teens podcast and radio broadcast.