Helping a Traumatized Adolescent
As an individual that may be working with an adolescent trauma victim, it is helpful to know how you can support the adolescent. Recognizing reactions that seem severe or on-going and that are interfering with the adolescent’s normal functioning can sometimes be difficult, especially if the adolescent appears to be fine or their suffering is not noticeable.
The following examples provided by The National Child Traumatic Stress Network demonstrate how differently two teens can react to trauma exposure:1
Example 1: Nicole: Her teacher noticed that the tenth grader, who had previously been a very outgoing and popular student, is suddenly quiet, withdrawn and “spaced out” during class. When the teacher approached her after class, Nicole reluctantly admitted that she had been forced to have sex on a date the previous week. She is very embarrassed about the experience and had not told anyone because she felt guilty and was afraid of what would happen.
Example 2: Daniel: Daniel has become increasingly aggressive and confrontational in school. He talks throughout class time and has difficulty staying “on task.” When approached by the teacher, his mother describes the constant neighborhood violence that Daniel is exposed to. He has witnessed a gun battle among gang members in the neighborhood and his mother suspects that he is in a gang. She is worried that he may be using drugs and alcohol. The mother also admits that during fifth grade, Daniel was placed in foster care due to physical abuse by his father and constant domestic violence in the home.
The two adolescents described above have both been exposed to traumatic experiences. Their reaction to the trauma is a result of their experiences and developmental stage and may have also been impacted by cultural factors. Being alert to changes in behavior can help identify adolescents who may be struggling with the affects of trauma.
It is important to be aware of and rely on community and educational resources. A referral to a mental health professional, who can evaluate the adolescent, may be beneficial in getting the intervention that the adolescent needs. It is also important to follow your local reporting procedures. In cases of abuse, you are legally required to report the situation to social services.2
The following are some suggestions on how you can help an adolescent who has experienced trauma: