My 16-year-old son’s best friend died a few months ago. He doesn’t talk much about it with me, and more worrisome, he doesn’t really discuss it with his friends. He said they’re all trying to appear like they’re fine, but they aren’t. It was his friend’s birthday yesterday and there was a celebration at the cemetery. I found out his friend’s mom has been texting my son about it, nothing inappropriate, but he didn’t tell anyone. He said he didn’t want to make his other friends jealous that he is the only one she reached out to. I’m afraid he’s holding it all in. He doesn’t want professional help and his grades are slipping. I understand the last thing a 16-year-old boy wants to do is discuss his feelings, but obviously, I’m concerned. I keep the line of communication open, check in with him and listen on the rare occasions he does want to talk. What else would you suggest I do?
Your son has experienced a significant trauma. The decline in academic achievement may be an indication that adjusting to life without his best friend is currently impacting brain functioning. “Trauma Brain” can present with a variety of symptoms including those related to anxiety and depression.
He may be attempting to cope by avoiding anything that triggers thoughts of the loss and leads to emotional discomfort. In order to recover, fully processing the trauma until there is a reduction in heightened emotion around it and a change in cognitions will be required. Avoidant behavior may relieve him in the moment, but it will ultimately sabotage his long term healing.
You are doing all the right things by keeping the lines of communication open, checking in and listening, but he needs more. Seek out a licensed professional mental health provider who specializes in trauma and utilizes researched interventions that provide measurable improvement. Empower him by letting him assist you in identifying who that professional will be, but not seeking appropriate treatment cannot be an option. His brain (and most importantly his broken-heart) will ultimately thank you for it.
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