When Bad Stuff Happens to Young People
AKA: Trauma and Teens
Unexpected, terrible, dangerous, and tragic experiences can impact us all. As much as we might like to fantasize about childhood, children are not immune to tragedy. The local accident in Ceres highlights how quickly teens life can be lost, and the sense of invulnerability can be shattered.
In light of these events, I wanted to share some information about trauma in teens and give some tips on how to support those impacted by this event.
- Teens experience trauma symptoms too. Sometimes we think teens are so resilient that if they don't talk about trauma- they aren't impacted. This just isn't true. Many kids and teens internalize their fears. They may not have words for what they are going through. Or, they may just think that they are going crazy because of the thoughts that come into their heads.
- Teens may or may not need to talk about the accident explicitly. Every teen is different. All of them need support getting through a terrible experience. Some may need to talk specifically about the accident. Others may need to go on lots of walks, runs, work in the garden, or get lots of hugs.
- Teens may need some shelter from the media. While teens may be drawn to get as much information about what happened as possible- they may not be prepared for what they read, hear, or see. Parents are the best gate keepers for relaying information and keeping an open line of communication. This does NOT mean you should act like the event didn't happen, stonewall about information about the accident, or share every detail. It is finding a balance for your child's unique needs.
- My child didn't see anything, what should I do? Adolescents are different. The act of just hearing about a horrible accident can trigger fear, confusion, and anxiety in some kids. Be open to talking, walking, or hanging out with your kids. It may seem silly- but sit down with your teen and do an art project or some collaging. Some kids who are worried would rather draw than talk- and that is ok!
- My child didn't know any of those kids, are they still impacted? They may be. Your child may be more fearful of walking to school, or driving in the car, or of something happening to you. An experience like this can highlight the fact that bad things happen to good people.
Most kids will process through this experience and begin to heal naturally within a few weeks. For some kids, this experience may linger and they may need extra help to process through the experience. Here are some symptoms to be aware of. If your child continues to experience these for more than a couple of weeks- you may want to make an appointment with the school counselor, a support person at your place of faith, or a private counselor who specializes in trauma.
- Change in sleep patterns. If you notice your child looks tired, begins to have trouble waking up in the morning, or is having trouble sleeping at night it can be a sign that their body is having difficulty processing. Teens often won't verbalize that they aren't sleeping. You may think they are sleeping longer than normal because they sleep in- when in reality they may have been in bed unable to sleep until 2, 3, or 4 am.
- Change in eating patterns. If you notice that your child's appetite changes dramatically for more than a week or two, you may want to explore further. Skipping meals, craving more unhealthy food, binging, etc. Be aware though, there is a lot of growth spurts happening at this age. A raise in appetite by itself may just be coincidental.
- Change in school patterns. If your child changes their pattern about schoolwork, is having difficulty concentrating, grades on test go down, etc., it could be due to their mind being focused on the trauma of the accident. Teens will often have thoughts about a bad experience that assault them throughout the day. It can look like they aren't paying attention, are daydreaming, or uninterested. In reality, they could really be struggling to heal from this experience.
- Change in relationships. This experience will make waves in your teen's social network. There will be drama and disputes, and a lot of stress socially. However, if your child ends up more isolated at the end of this experience- pulling back from everyone in their social network- it can be a yellow flag that they are struggling.
Parents and caregivers, you are your child's best advocate and support system. Provide them opportunities to walk, talk, be still, talk to other adults they trust, write, journal, run, play- whatever they need to do to get better.
Special note for parents: If this experience is triggering trauma symptoms in you, it will be more difficult for you to attend to what is happening for your child. Check out the "relax" recording, or my anxiety page, to learn some tricks to take care of you- so you can take care of them!
Hope this articles helps. If you have questions about trauma and teens- please post them in the comments section below. If you have personal questions or are in need of a counselor for yourself or your teen, feel free to call for a free 15 minute consultation at (209) 602-1513.