A traumatic experience is any event in life that causes a threat to our safety and potentially places our own life or the lives of others at risk. Therefore, individuals who experience high levels of emotional, psychological, and physical distress may find that their ability to function normally, day to day, as temporarily disrupted.

When teenagers experience a upsetting or frightening event, they may be troubled by strong emotions. Although these reactions usually decrease as a part of the body’s natural healing and recovery process, it is important to understand the ways in which a teenager manages distress and trauma adults can support and help the teenager.

What does this look like in my child? (Symptoms)

At School

  • Strong emotions such as sadness, anger, anxiety and guilt

  • Overreacting to minor irritations

  • Being very protective of family and friends

  • Loss of interest in school, friends, hobbies, and life in general

  • Negative outlook on life, being distrusting of others

  • Depression and feelings of hopelessness

  • Difficulties with short-term memory, concentration and problem solving

  • Repetitively thinking about the traumatic event and talking about it often

At Home

  • Disturbed sleeping patterns

  • Wanting to spend more time alone

  • Increased need for independence

  • Withdrawing from family and friends

  • Returning to younger ways of behaving including giving up responsibilities or a sudden return to rebellious behavior

  • Self-absorption and caring only about what is immediately important

How can I help my child now?

Some common suggestions include:

  • Encourage communication without judging or advising, unless they ask for your feedback.

  • Show them that you truly care for them, are interested, and enjoy being with them.

  • Continue to give love, support and trust, even if things are extremely difficult.

  • Remember this teenager is the same person they were before the event, even if they seem different.

  • If asked, gently let the young person know that they are having a ‘normal’ reaction to a frightening experience and that in time these very strong reactions will subside.

What can I do for my child in the long-run?

Traumatic stress can cause very strong reactions in some teenagers and may become chronic (ongoing).

Signs that you should seek professional help include:

  • Their behavior is dangerous, reckless or harmful.

  • They seem persistently depressed or anxious.

  • They start abusing substances, such as cigarettes or alcohol, or their use increases dramatically.

  • They won’t communicate about where they’re going, what they’re doing or how they’re feeling.

  • They don’t seem to be showing any signs of recovery.

  • The teenager’s behavior does not make sense to you and seems completely out of character.

  • You are worried about them for any reason at all.

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