Social and Emotional Effects of Parental Loss: A Phenomenological Study of Adolescent Experiences

Thursday, 15 July 2010: 2:25 PM

Donna M. Hallas, PhD, PNP-BC, CPNP
College of Nursing, New York University, New York City, NY

Learning Objective 1: Describe the effects of the loss of a parent on the social and emotional development of adolescents.

Learning Objective 2: Identify strategies that help adolescents who have experienced the loss of a parent.

Purpose: Theoretically, children and adolescents grow ‘in connection’ to their parents. Adolescents, who experience the death of a parent, immediately loose this ‘connection’. This loss can have devastating affects on their personal growth and development. The aims of this phenomenological investigation were to uncover the meaning of this loss on the social and emotional development of teenagers and to identify strategies to help adolescents who experience this loss.    

Methods: Adults who experienced the death of a parent during their adolescent years were participants in this study.  During individual, tape recorded, face-to-face one hour interviews, each participant was asked to reflect on his or her adolescent and early adult experiences after the loss of the parent and how these experiences influenced his or her actions and behaviors. Collazzi’s methodology was used to extract significant statements from each interview. These statements were organized into clusters to formulate meanings and themes. Interviews were conducted until data saturation was achieved.  

Results: Major themes which emerged from these data were: 1. Feelings of overwhelming loss and loneliness; 2. Unpleasant reminders, such as mother’s day or father’s day; 3. Frozen in time; 4. Uncertainty about personal parenting skills; 5. Developing a personal sense of self; 6. The power of ‘Letting Go’

Conclusion: Recommendations for nurses and other professionals to help adolescents who experience the loss of a parent during this critical period of adolescent social and emotional development emerged from this phenomenological investigation and include: ways to communicate with adolescents who experience a loss of a parent, strategies to encourage ‘moving forward’ with day to day life experiences, interventions to create meaningful ‘connections’ with others, and ways to develop personal parenting skills in adulthood. Future studies in which these interventions are applied in clinical practice are recommended.