Boys & Girls Club youth at a special Boys & Girls Club IMAX screening of Black Panther in 2018. (Thomas R. Cordova / Daily Breeze).
When a celebrity, athlete, or well known figure passes away, it can create complicated feelings for young people. While this has always been the case, the loss of a celebrity may hit particularly close for today’s youth, who often feel more connected to their favorite actors, musicians, or sports stars because of the intimacy of social media. Additionally, the community that springs up online in the immediate wake of a tragic death can feel overwhelming and all-encompassing. As a parent, you can play an important role in supporting young people when hard things are in the news, but it can be confusing to know what to say or do.
First, take care of you. Remember to take care of your own mental, physical and emotional well-being. Grieving young people will do better when they have a healthy adult providing a supportive relationship.
Don’t minimize grieving the death of a celebrity. This excellent article from Teen Vogue explains why celebrity deaths affect us. According to a therapist quoted in the piece: “They made us laugh, they made us cry, but most importantly, they helped us forget about our difficult moments when we needed it most.” If youth are experiencing grief, acknowledge those feelings as real, and don’t dismiss them as unimportant.
Create safe space for youth to process their feelings. To do this, provide a dedicated quiet space for young people to share their feelings. This will allow them the time they may need to work through their complicated emotions around the loss. If you know that a celebrity death may be particularly meaningful for a young person, take a pause to check in. Ask open-ended questions about how they are feeling. Open-ended questions are those that encourage conversation, and can’t be answered with a simple yes or no. This will allow youth to process their emotions and make meaning out of the experience.
Share your own experiences of grief. In some cases, you may also be experiencing a deep sense of loss about the celebrity that has passed, or you may be able to draw from other times in your life you’ve felt grief. Don’t be afraid to share how you are feeling, while being mindful not to overpower the conversation. While our focus is on helping youth to process their own thoughts and emotions, your empathy and lessons you’ve learned can let youth know that these feelings are normal.
When talking with youth about how they are feeling about a celebrity death, here are some questions you can ask:
Also recognize that youth may not be ready to talk about their emotions right away. In that case, assure them that you are there for them when they are ready, and ask what you can do to support them in the meantime.
Visit BGCA.org/bethere to check out training and resources to support a young person in your life who is experiencing grief, loss or hardship.