The teenage years are a time when kids are often exposed to new experiences, and some of these experiences may place them at a higher risk for encountering trauma. Teens may try to hide the effects of trauma they experience if they blame themselves for what led up to the painful event, or if they feel embarrassed about their emotions. As a parent, it can be difficult to feel fully prepared to address your teens needs, but unaddressed trauma in teens places them at risk for even more challenges since they may try to mask negative emotions with drugs or alcohol.
Whether you have experienced a recent loss in your family, or just sense that something is amiss with your child, you can use these strategies to help your teen find appropriate ways to cope with trauma.
Recognize the Less Obvious Sources of Trauma for Teens
A traumatic event can be a one-time incident, or it can drag on for years. Most parents know to watch for signs of emotional struggles in their child after events such as a car accident or death. Then there are teens who are bullied or deal with the traumatic experience of sexual harassment at a new workplace. Your teen could also be traumatized by events in the news, or from something as simple (and yet complex) as the breakup of a romantic relationship.
Watch For Signs of Difficulty Coping After a Traumatic Event
Teens struggle with coping with trauma because they typically lack certain life experiences and refined tools to overcome severe emotional distress. A teen who is struggling with trauma may exhibit signs in their outward behavior such as withdrawing socially or having mood swings. You may also notice your teen change their eating or sleeping pattern. Drug use, trouble at school, or problems with the law are a few more signs that a teen is having difficulty coping with trauma.
Be Ready to Reach Out With Support
One good thing about teens and trauma is that they tend to recover quickly once they are provided with the right sources of support. As a parent, you can help your child by reassuring them they are loved, they are a valued member of the family, and that you will always work to keep safe. You can also encourage your teen to stay engaged in social and physical activities that serve as an emotional outlet. For instance, continuing to play on their school or rec sports teams may help them increase natural endorphins in their body that alleviate stress, and maintain or build healthy social connections to help show them other people care about their wellbeing.
Know When to Seek Professional Help
At times the trauma your teen experiences may prove too great for you to tackle alone. If your teen has issues such as drug or alcohol addiction related to their struggle dealing with a traumatic event, it’s important to seek professional help. In general, you should consider getting your teen professional help if they do not show signs of improvement after a few weeks of struggling through a traumatic event. Should your teen start therapy to help cope with their trauma, remember your job is not over. You are still encouraged to stay actively involved by establishing an open atmosphere at home that lets your child feel safe talking through their emotions and experiences.
Everyone reacts to trauma differently, and for teens the struggle is real. When you know what to watch for, you can better serve your teen as a source of support to guide and help them heal emotionally.
Overcoming emotional trauma is a journey. By allowing the process to run its course, and pursuing a strategy of accepting the changes the trauma has caused, it is possible to heal the wounds of trauma. By working through trauma, there is a way to move forward. Everyone deserves to live their best, healthiest and happiest life.
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