grief resilience tool for teens


Understanding the Problem

In 2016 nearly half a million parents of teenagers died in 2016; 1.7 million incarcerated people have a child under 18. The grief and loss experienced by this segment of 13-20 year olds is powerful.

So, why is this a problem?

Vulnerable User Group

Teens are emotionally developing and finding themselves socially — the maladjustments they make during this time can have lasting effects.

Resource Gap

Great recovery resources like Camp Erin or are developed for little kids or older adults — teens have become the untouchables.

Cost Prohibitive

Therapy — the best way to heal — is expensive and often requires an adult with a car and time to transport a teen to and from a doctor’s office.


The few digital resources available are clunky, out-of-date, and poorly maintained making them unappealing to a user group who feels most authentic online.

Problem statement: 

Teens experiencing deep loss or grief are at higher risk to have unstable adulthoods without proper resources. Teens are less likely to have peers who relate to their grief experience, and most readily available resources are aimed at older adults or very young children. The best resources are prohibitively expensive. Current resources are not in touch with GenZ communication style.

How might we help teens who have lost a caretaker to death or incarceration become resilient adults?

User Empathy

Our user group is vulnerable to re-traumatization so to gather information about this population, I interviewed 15 people who link directly with the potential user base. These “user advocates” included social workers, clinical psychologists, shelter managers, and adults who lost a parent as a teen.

interviewing Philadelphia area social worker

interviewing Philadelphia area social worker

When I was a kid no one knew how to talk about divorce and now it feels normalized. We need to do the same for incarceration. How do we make it part of the normalized growing up experience?
— Clinical Psychologist, The Door
These are primarily systemically, personally, historically traumatized kids, so making an appointment [with the counselor] is resilient.
— Social Worker, Bronx
All kids need protective factors - especially these kids.
— Family Therapist, Brooklyn

As I synthesized the data I found patterns in the most resilient and the least resilient kids — this helped focus the project goals and establish a user persona. These key takeaways to build resilience: 

1. Emotional regulation

Space to freely fall apart and express oneself is the key to emotionally regulation (think: therapist’s office or family member who is a great listener).

2. Secure connections

An adult who supports the teen's emotional needs;
Group of peers who can relate;
A counselor who can mirror and console...someone who cares.

user persona with details developed from user advocate interviews, research and input

user persona with details developed from user advocate interviews, research and input


Validating the idea

I tested a lo-fi prototype with 6 of the User Advocates. I then conducted a post-it session to organize the findings. This helped me prioritize the scope of the product and identify the three keys to helping teens build resiliency.  

early lo-fi user flow sketches for prototyping 

early lo-fi user flow sketches for prototyping 


Secure Connections

Examples, templates and subtle influences show users how to develop secure connections. This will support users through grief and far beyond.

Emotional Regulation

By providing a safe space to fall apart, honest self-expression, and mirroring, users begin to emotionally regulate. A tool that will serve them for a lifetime.


Collaborating with our allies on the front lines to make sure this free resource is accessible to those who need it most by being in the spaces users already occupy.

This also helped me developing the guiding principles behind the product:
• Resilience starts with secure connections + emotional regulation
• Everyone deserves secure connections
• Everyone deserves a place to fall apart safely

Core User Story

As a user I want to connect with people who understand what I’m going through so that I can feel less alone and more secure.

After developing annotated wireframes and sharing with an engineer for feedback, I created a prototype in Invision. how uses short form videos and Facebook Messenger API to achieve the high-level goals.


Key Epics

how’s short-form videos offer practical tools from professionals, and stories from survivors who are leading creative, full lives. Templating secure connections.

Personalized feeds will recommend videos that are most likely to help; video ratings will utilize an algorithm like Netflix to recommend relevant content.

And howbot — a Facebook Messenger API will be able to listen and respond empathetically with therapeutic language developed by our team of pros. Emotional regulation – a place to fall apart.


Our goal is to help grieving teens develop resilience through secure connections and emotional regulation.

KPIs: User engagement is our key to success, so we will be tracking videos rated and conversations with howbot closely.


Teens will share a useful resource with their online communities.

If a digital tool/community is available, teens who need grief support will use it and build resilient + relevant connections to heal.

Teens feel authentic online and will therefore be willing to share vulnerably on a digital platform.

Mitigating risks

Predators may use the platform to access vulnerable teens. Preventative measure: User verification through required Facebook login.

Teens may abuse the platform to bully one another in peer to peer communication. Preventative measure: Community Commitment agreement + 3 complaints = out policy.

Teens may upload inappropriate video content. Preventative measure: Community Commitment + 1 strike = out policy.

Next Steps

Positioned to win: Our deep and prolific relationships with specialist and survivors in the death, grief and prison communities is a fantastic unfair advantage on top of our first-to-market position.

I am currently applying for grants to begin engineering and testing a functional MVP.