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.”
Start with a simple question
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 you 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.
The role of drugs
Sometimes news reports tie a celebrity’s death to an accidental drug overdose, as with Mac Miller, Lil Peep and most recently Juice WRLD. Dr. White said parents should avoid shifting into lecture mode, because it may seem to diminish the child’s grief. “You don’t have to explicitly say, ‘I hear he overdosed on drugs,” she said. “Ask, ‘Do you know what happened, and do you want to talk about it?’”
Ms. DeCristofaro added that parents can also create space for teens to take the lead in talking about drugs by asking what conversations are coming up among their friends on the topic. That space, however, needs to be free of advice or judgment, she said.
Dr. Indra Cidambi, a psychiatrist who specializes in addictions and medical director of the Center for Network Therapy, an outpatient detoxification program in New Jersey, urged parents to pay close attention to the celebrities their teens idolize.