When a celebrity 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 Boys & Girls Club staff, we 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. As Club staff, you have to remember to take care of your own mental, physical and emotional well-being. Grieving members 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 in your Club for youth to share their feelings with trusted staff and friends. 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 your members, take a pause to check in before program. 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:
- How are you feeling about this?
- What are some ways that they inspired you?
- Have you had someone you cared about pass away? What were some things that made you feel better then?
- How can you apply lessons you’ve learned from their life to yours?
- How can you support your friends who are also sad about this?
- What can I do to support you?
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.
To learn more about how to support youth who are grieving, Boys & Girls Club staff can access resources in our Be There initiative, a comprehensive approach to help Clubs support grieving youth, at BGCA.net/bethere.