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Is Your Teen Impacted by Trauma? How to Tell and What to Do.


Is Your Teen Impacted by Trauma? How to Tell and What to Do.

By Lauren Lia, MSW, LCSW, Director of Clinical Services

Do we have a stereotype when we think of trauma? What if we think about the boy on our child’s soccer team we say is ‘trouble’ and does poorly in school? The teen at our place of worship who is ‘too quiet’ and can’t look you in the eye? A friend’s daughter that has a pattern of unstable friendships and relationships? So many teens we label as ‘problems’ are so much more beneath the surface. These scenarios might all be teens with symptoms of trauma. Trauma has a profound impact on everyone and affects teens in a distinct way.

Some symptoms, like those mentioned above, we can observe from the outside. Struggles in school such as poor grades, difficulty concentrating, and even skipping. Behavioral problems can look like difficulty following rules, or verbal or physical disagreements with peers. Even impulsive or reckless behavior, such as substance abuse or unsafe driving, are significantly more common among teens who have experienced trauma.

Other effects have warning signs we must look closely to see. Trauma puts teens at higher risk for mental health issues. Depression shows itself through withdrawing from loved ones, losing interest in enjoyed activities, even hopelessness and suicide. Post-traumatic stress disorder can even occur, which often includes disturbing memories of their trauma, constantly feeling unsafe, and developing negative beliefs about themselves and the world.

See Also: Download Your Teen Safety Planning Guide

Trauma significantly disrupts the critical development that occurs during adolescence. It makes creating positive strengths and coping skills more difficult, leading to challenges in managing emotions and building self-esteem.  It changes the structure of one’s brain interrupting effective problem solving and rational thinking.

Teens who witness domestic abuse and other traumas are significantly more likely to experience teen dating violence. Often teens are modeling the behavior they have seen and become either the victim or perpetrator of violence.

It is critical for all community members to be educated about trauma and its symptoms. It is also necessary to have tools to help connect a young person to resources that will truly heal. Lastly, we must look at our teens through the compassionate lens rather than the problems we see. Let us shift from asking questions of “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” and “How can I help?”

Please contact our 24 hour call or text hotline to learn more about our Counseling Services for teens.

Additional Resources

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: Intimate Partner Violence