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Facing Death: Cancer

Teenagers’ concept of death may be different than adults and every child has his/ her own understanding and concept of death. The understanding depends on the age, emotional development, past experiences and family experiences of death.

The adults’ opinion, fear, understanding and conceptions or misconceptions would influence on how teens see death themselves. Cultural belief contributes to how teens understand death. Treating death as part of life is difficult and help to ease confusion and fear.

Teens with life-threatening illness are usually aware of their condition. Ill teenagers use a variety of coping styles to deal with strong emotions that comes along with life-threatening illness and sometimes painful treatments; such as anxiety, depression, and confusion.

It is normal for teenagers to push away family members as part of their ways of dealing with pending death. Teens would have real conflict of wanting to be with family and pushing them away as well as they are unable to communicate to their parents. They may find it difficult to find someone to confide in. Facing the reality of death is a very difficult task for everyone, particularly for teenagers. Being and feeling different to their peers is very challenging. They may feel as if they no longer fit in with their peers.

All teenagers grieve differently. Grief is a process and teens’ way of grieving depends on the teens’ developmental stages. Developmentally, teenagers begins to establish their identity, independence, and relationship to peer groups. It is normal for teenagers to have feeling of feelings of immortality at this age. The realization of their own death may come across as denial and defiance.

A terminal illness or the effects of treatment may cause changes in self-image in teenagers. They may feel alone scared and angry.

Source: kisahikmah.com

It is important for parents to realize that children of all ages respond to death in unique ways. Teenagers need support and someone to listen to their thoughts and reassure them. It is recommended to have honest communication tailored to the teen’s level of comprehension can promote healthy coping with the grief of having life-threatening illness. It is important to listen to them. Answer their questions honestly and directly, and try not to give information that may confuse or mislead the child. Listen, validate and respect the teenagers. Teenagers may want to have their religious or cultural rituals observed. In one study of bereaved parents, while none of those who talked to their child about impending death regretted doing so, another 27% of those who didn’t said that they regretted that decision.

It is important for parents to be aware and support their teenagers who are facing death. Research shows that avoiding these talks exacerbates the teenage patient’s fear and sense of isolation.


  1. Ulrika Kreicbergs, Unnur Valdimarsdóttir, Erik Onelöv, Jan-Inge Henter, Gunnar Steineck. 2004. Talking about Death with Children Who Have Severe Malignant Disease. N Engl J Med 2004; 351:1175-1186 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa040366
  2. https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/28/teen-advance-directive-end-of-life-care/”>https://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/03/28/teen-advance-directive-end-of-life-care/
  3. https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P03044″>https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=90&ContentID=P03044
  4. https://canvas.santarosa.edu/courses/3319/pages/module-assignment-number-10-children-and-adolescents
Last Reviewed : 06 September 2017
Writer : Dr. Harlina Bt. Bahar
Accreditor : Dr. Sheila Marimuthu