Traumatic events can be especially hard for teenagers to process and overcome. Trauma can come in many forms, including the death of a loved one, a natural disaster, car accident, abuse, bullying, or school shooting. There are ways to help your teen cope and move on from these disturbing events.
How Do Teens React to Trauma?
Traumatic events can have a profound effect on teens – shaking their sense of security and making them feel scared, angry, and confused. In addition, they might:
- Feel depressed, guilty, or isolated
- Have flashbacks, nightmares, or sleep problems
- Lose interest in hobbies
- Be disrespectful, destructive, or disruptive
- Abuse alcohol, tobacco, or drugs
- Engage in risky behavior
- Have suicidal thoughts
What Can I Do to Help My Teen Cope?
Help your teen work through trauma:
Communicate on their terms
Let your teen be the guide for home and how much they want to talk about it. Ask questions and encourage them to express their feelings, but don’t force it. Instead, spend quality time with them and make it clear you are available to talk and will make them a priority.
Be a good example
In addition to offering support and reassurance, it’s important to manage your own reactions and emotions. Patterning thoughtful, composed behavior helps your teen do the same. Don’t hide your feelings about the trauma, but do use your adult skills to manage them.
Help rebuild security
Traumatic events can shatter your teen’s very core of safety and trust. You can help restore their feeling of security by creating routines, minimizing stress at home, and making plans for the future. It’s also important that you remain trustworthy – following through on promises and being consistent.
Limit media exposure
Thanks to the easy accessibility of the news, social media, and video clips, your teen may run across coverage of the traumatic event, or reminders of similar events. It’s important to minimize their exposure as much as possible, as this can cause them to relive the event and experience the trauma all over again. Should they come across a graphic or difficult-to-watch clip, make sure to talk to them and reassure them that the event is in the past and you’re there to help them get through it.
Establish healthy habits
Exercise and proper nutrition can help you and your teen through this difficult time. Physical activity burns off adrenaline and releases mood-lifting endorphins. Try to find an activity that your teen enjoys, whether it’s a sport or simply getting outside. In addition, try to limit unhealthy, processed foods and replace them with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, protein, and healthy fats. Cooking at home and enjoying a family meal together can also help to establish security.
Does Trauma Require Help?
Not all traumas require professional help and counseling but often seeking some assistance can help teens process their emotions and become stronger and more resilient. Talking you’re your teen’s primary care physician can provide lead to other coping strategies or a referral for help.
Seek professional help immediately if your teen is exhibiting one or more symptoms or seems to be overwhelmed:
- Trouble performing or concentrating at school
- Nightmares, frightening memories, or flashbacks
- Not feeling better after six weeks
- Physical complaints, such as stomachaches, sleep disturbances, or headaches
- Withdrawing from family, friends, and hobbies
- Experiencing suicidal thoughts
- Engaging in drug or alcohol abuse
If you’re worried that your teen isn’t handling the trauma seek the help of a mental health professional who specializes in trauma. You may also consider counseling for yourself, as this will better equip you to help your teenager.
Dominion Hospital offers therapy services to both teens and adults, and can help your family through a traumatic event. You can call our First Step counselors 24/7 at (703) 538‑2872 to get started or visit our website.