In recent weeks people have been reflecting upon and mourning suicides by K-POP stars and YouTube personalities like Etika. A little over a week ago, the rapper Juice WRLD died, which has made many people think about how painful and personal celebrity deaths can feel because of our proximity to our idols through social media.
Has one of your idols ever died? How did you feel emotionally, psychologically and physically in the days and weeks after? Was there anyone who supported you through your grieving process?
In “How to Help a Teenager Handle the Death of an Idol,” Kelly Glass writes about supporting her son through his process of mourning Juice WRLD. She also interviewed experts, including Jana DeCristofaro, an expert on grieving children and families, who offered advice to parents and adults about how to help teenagers cope with this kind of loss:
For this generation of teenagers, the deaths of their icons are bigger than adults might realize.
“When a star dies who’s around the same age, it can bring up a lot of thoughts about mortality,” Ms. DeCristofaro said. Reminders of these deaths are all over social media, and teens are inundated daily with news and commentary on what happened and why. Ms. DeCristofaro said this might trigger teenagers’ questions about the purpose of their own lives.
Parents also have to keep in mind that fan relationships are different now. The deaths of previous pop idols, like Michael Jackson in 2009 and Prince in 2016, devastated fans all over the world. Many worshiped them and felt emotionally connected to them through their music. But now, with platforms like Snapchat, teens are immersed in the world of their celebrities like never before.
Ms. DeCristofaro said that one of the factors that influences a person’s grieving process is how much the person who died was a part of the day-to-day life of the person grieving. Teens watch their favorite musicians’ Instagram stories, follow their thoughts and musings on Twitter, and see or hear from their favorite celebrities on one social platform or another. This adds to the level of connection teens feel they have with celebrities.
What parents can do differently, she said, is acknowledge how the daily routine of teens whose favorite celebrity just died will change. Treating these deaths like far-removed tragedies is dismissive.
“They feel like they lost a friend,” said Ebony White, director of the addictions counseling program and assistant clinical professor of the counseling and family therapy department at Drexel University. “Sometimes parents and teachers lose teens because we don’t connect with how personal it was for them.”
Students, read the entire article, then tell us:
The article asserts that because of social media, the death of a celebrity can feel close and intimate. Do you agree with this? Does it ever feel like the icons you follow are your friends? What gives you that sense of connection?
If you’ve experienced the death of an icon, reflect on how friends, family and teachers responded and reacted. Did people around you say or do things that were helpful? Were there things that were less helpful to your grieving process?
What do you think about the advice in the article given to adults? In one section, Ebony White, a professor of counseling and family therapy, offers the following advice:
Dr. White recommends that parents start with a simple question: “What do you need from me?” Other well-intentioned questions, such as “Why are you upset?” or “What’s wrong?” can come across as dismissive to grieving teens. Acknowledging the pain they are experiencing without attempting to fix the feelings may help leave the door open for teens to lean on their parents through the process.
To continue the conversation, Ms. DeCristofaro advises that parents be what she calls curious learners. “Show some interest and curiosity in the celebrity,” she said. “‘Could we listen to something together? What do you like about their music?’ Just so you can learn a little about what your child is connecting with.” Such questions help teens put the focus back on the lives of the icons they’ve lost instead of their deaths.
What do you think about Dr. White’s suggestions for parents? Has an adult ever asked you any of those questions? How did you respond?
If you were to give the adults in your life advice about how to support teenagers coping with the death of an idol, what would you tell them? Are there other resources you wish you had to help with this kind of loss?
If you, or someone you know, is having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or text CONNECT to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
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