Dealing with the feelings: How to Help Teen Boys Cope with TraumaHas your teen suddenly become distant or more on edge? This could be a result of normal growing pains or it could be something more. This new behavior can easily be mistaken for a phase or moodiness. But if your teen has recently witnessed or experienced something traumatic, you should evaluate the situation and provide them with the help they need. Unfortunately, experiencing trauma is not uncommon for adolescents. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, more than two-thirds of children reported at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. Because experiencing trauma is so prevalent for teens today, it is important to understand how this trauma may be affecting your teen and how you can find help.
Trauma and Its Effect on TeenagersMost of us have heard the word “trauma” but may not realize that trauma can cover a wide range of experiences. For some teens, an experience with bullying can cause trauma. Others may experience trauma after their parents’ divorce. Trauma can be experiencing a natural disaster, violence, or becoming homeless. Trauma affects a teen’s sense of safety and trust. They may continue to feel tense or scared long after the event is over. There is no “right” way to respond to a traumatic event. Some teens may feel sad, angry, or even guilty. They may blame themselves for what happened. They may feel a loss of self-confidence or a deep sense of grief. Trauma also can affect a teen’s mood, behavior, or sleep. Some teen boys become depressed. They might act out in anger or, on the other side of the spectrum, withdraw completely. Some get in trouble more often or do worse in school. Some have new fears or trouble sleeping. Some have upsetting memories, called flashbacks. Often, they avoid situations or triggers that remind them of what they’ve been through. After a trauma, some teens may share how they feel. But it is also common for teens to hide their struggles because they feel embarrassed about their symptoms. These teens may try to hide how they feel, or try to push it out of their minds. They may think others expect them to “get over it.” Some just don’t have words for their feelings. For any of these reasons, a parent might not know what their teen is going through. If your teen has experienced a traumatic event, here are a few warning signs to be aware of that may indicate they are still struggling with the effects of their trauma:
- Confusion, difficulty concentrating
- Anger, irritability, mood swings
- Anxiety and fear
- Guilt, shame, self-blame
- Withdrawing from others
- Feeling sad or hopeless
- Feeling disconnected or numb
- Insomnia or nightmares
- Being startled easily
- Racing heartbeat
- Edginess and agitation
- Aches and pains
- Muscle tension
Helping Your Teen at HomeFrustration, exhaustion, and confusion are all normal things to feel when dealing with a teen who is going through trauma. Lashing out is never the answer. If you find that your child is still coping with the effects of trauma four weeks after the event, seek professional help. Otherwise, consider these methods for helping your teen:
- Let your child know that they are safe and cared for on a regular basis. This will also make them feel more comfortable in communicating with you.
- Part of the healing process includes expressing emotions. Encourage your child to express their feelings. If not through words, drawing is a great way to set emotional build-up free.
- Sometimes it is hard for us to understand why someone feels the way they do. Just because it doesn’t affect us doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. Make yourself accessible and speak to your child without criticism.
- Help your teen turn to activities they enjoy doing as an emotional release. Physical activity helps promote improved mental health and of course, physical health. This can be a great distraction and way to get your child motivated.
- Encourage your teen to try a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness can be especially helpful for adolescents dealing with trauma. Mindfulness teaches you how to acknowledge thoughts without letting them overwhelm you. People who have experienced trauma may be triggered by scenarios or sensory factors. Mindfulness can help teens recognize when those intrusive thoughts are arising and begin to disengage from that thought pattern. Practicing deep breathing can also help the body relax and shift away from their fight or flight response in the moment.
- Join a support group for trauma survivors. So often, people who experience trauma feel that they are alone. They isolate themselves from family and friends because they feel that they are damaged or that no one can understand what they are going through. Connecting with others who are facing the same problems can help reduce teens’ sense of isolation, and hearing how others cope can help inspire them in their own recovery.