How Can Parents Help?

Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shattered your teenager’s sense of security, making them feel helpless in a dangerous world. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves an individual feeling overwhelmed and isolated can be traumatic, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by one-time events such as an accident, an injury, a natural disaster or a violent attack. Emotional and psychological trauma can also be caused by ongoing, relentless stress such as dealing with sexual harassment at work, living in a crime-ridden neighborhood or living with a chronic medical condition. Additionally, common overlooked causes of emotional and psychological trauma include the loss of a loved one, a recent surgery, the loss of a job, a breakup from a significant relationship, or a deeply disappointing experience. Teenagers are more likely to experience trauma if they experienced any from of childhood trauma such as being in an unstable or unsafe environment, being separated from a parent, having a serious childhood illness or undergoing any form of childhood abuse including neglect, physical, verbal and sexual abuse.

Signs and symptoms of trauma in teenagers

Each teenager may react differently to trauma. There are many ways the body experiences grief reactions to traumatic events. A reaction can become unhealthy if the behavior and mood is prolonged and is affecting your teenager’s lifestyle. The following are signs and symptoms associated with emotional and psychological trauma:

  • Shock or denial
  • Difficulty concentration or declining academic performance
  • Irritability and mood swings
  • Guilt and shame
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feeling sad or hopeless
  • Aches and pains
  • Muscle tension
  • Insomnia or nightmares
  • Fatigue
  • Agitation

Trauma recovery tip 1: Motivate your son or daughter to engage in physical activity

Exercise and movement has been shown to help release the adrenaline and endorphins associated with trauma. Physical exercise can increase energy levels, increase awareness and can improve physical health. Try to support your teenager by exercising with them. Maybe go on a hike, participate in a yoga class, play a sport or go on a jog.

Treatment recovery tip 2: Engage your teenager is social activities

Trauma can result in social isolation and withdrawal, which can lead to severe depression and even suicidal thoughts. Encourage your son or daughter to hang out with their friends, participate in social activities such as afterschool programs or sports, volunteer or join a trauma support group. As a parent, you can help by volunteering and joining a support group with your son or daughter.

Trauma recovery tip 4: Stay healthy

Physical health is just as important as mental and emotional health. It is important that your teenager is eating a well-balanced diet, is obtaining eight hours of sleep a night, is staying away from drugs and alcohol and is exercising on a daily basis.

Trauma recovery tip 5: Seek professional help

If you feel that your son or daughter is not improving then it may be time to see a trauma informed therapist. Therapists who specialize in trauma practice specific techniques with their clients such as cognitive behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and somatic experiencing. It is important that your son or daughter feels comfortable with their therapist otherwise it will be difficult for successful treatment to ensue. 

Trauma recovery tip 6: Be patient and stay involved

Treatment for trauma takes time. It may take weeks or months before you start seeing improvement in your teenager’s mood and therefore it is important to stay patient and to continue to offer support and encouragement throughout the process. Be prepared for setbacks and celebrate the milestones.

If you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, reach out to Center for Discovery. We’re here for you—even during Thanksgiving and other approaching holidays—when you need a place to turn.