Teen Talk: Teens Dealing with Trauma and Disasters

Sad Teen
Posted at 8:45 AM, Oct 26, 2015
and last updated 2016-07-04 11:41:34-04

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WTXL) -- Teenagers today are faced with tremendous traumas and disasters. So how can parents address the issue?

Family therapist Jane Marks says helping teens face trauma begins by having an awareness of how often this happens.  Young people are injured, they see others harmed by violence, they suffer sexual abuse, they lose loved ones, or could witness tragic and shocking events.

According to Marks, Trauma typically comes in two forms. It is not only the result of physical injuries but more importantly psychological trauma is emotionally painful, shocking, stressful and sometimes life threatening.  Teens that have been traumatized react in different ways. 

Marks says these are the things that parents need to be aware of:

1. Teens often isolate themselves, become quiet around friends, have nightmares, refuse to go to bed, become irritable or disruptive, have anger outbursts, start fights, compromised concentration, school refusal, complaining of physical symptoms, developing unfounded fears, becoming depressed, emotional numbness, doing poorly in school.

2. Some experience survival guilt.  They may feel guilty for not being able to prevent an injury or death and sometimes they even have revengeful feelings.

3. Some are fearful that the event will happen again, that someone close to them will be killed or they will be left alone or separated from family.

4. Teens may react by becoming involved in dangerous risk taking behaviors such as reckless driving and alcohol or drug abuse.   

Now what is a parent to do in the event that your teen has experienced trauma?

1.  It is important for teens to put language on their feelings.  If they struggle with that, get them to journal their feelings.

2.  An unusual symptom like bed wetting may occur, please let them know there is some normalcy about this because their whole system has been traumatized by this last event.

3.  If sleep disruption occurs, it is time to employ different kinds of sleep routines. Maybe adding a night light or classical music in the background, anything that's going to help the system settle down.

4.  Reduce additional stressors.  For example, it may not be a time to talk about upsetting family issues. 

5. Give them time to heal.

6.  You may want to provide factual information about the disasters themselves and plan for their insured and ongoing safety.  Also discuss a safety plan for future events.

7.  Be careful about the language you use.  A lot of times you want to probe for details or you want to make comments about the event itself or be negative about.  In situations like this you keep your personal feelings to yourself.

8.  Trauma resources include the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Center for PTSD, National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration.

9.  Parents, do not ignore severe reactions.  Make sure you take time to get professional help.

10.  Other ways of easing disaster related stress include:

                a.  Make sure you take steps to promote physical and emotional healing by healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation and meditation.

                b.  Maintain an normal family and daily routine limiting demanding responsibilities on yourself and your teen.

                c.  Spend time with family and friends.

                d.  Participate in memorials.

e.  Use existing support groups of family, friends and religious institutions.