OAPP Adolescent Trauma
This Adolescent Trauma module will introduce Adolescent Family Life (AFL) grantee staff to the dynamics of trauma experienced by adolescents and to promising and effective strategies to better serve these adolescents. The module will begin by defining trauma as it relates specifically to adolescents. Then the module will describe the types of trauma adolescents may experience and trauma’s effect on their brain development. The relationship between trauma and the adolescent’s culture will also be addressed. The module will also provide strategies for helping adolescents avoid re-traumatization and strategies for managing vicarious trauma. Lastly, the module will provide an overview of assessment measures and treatment for trauma victims.
Section 1: Introduction to Adolescent Trauma
We encounter events daily that could potentially become traumatic, from automobile accidents and natural disasters, to community violence and physical abuse. Adolescents in particular, with their increased move towards independence, are exposed to new dimensions of trauma. This exposure can become traumatic when it includes sexual violation, serious injury, death or witnessing a violent act. Traumatic experiences of all types can be damaging to adolescent development and cause long term effects.1
According to the Child Trauma Academy, adolescents are victims of violence at twice the national average and most of the violence experienced by adolescents is committed by their peers or someone the victim knows. Sixty-five percent of physical assaults on adolescents are likely not to be reported and almost 86 percent of sexual assaults go unreported. In the United States, the probability of a child having experienced interpersonal or community violence is 1 in 4 by the time he/she reaches the age of eighteen.2 Adolescents exposed to trauma are more likely to become involved in unhealthy behaviors that result in unintended pregnancy and running away, and they are especially at risk for getting involved in abusive relationships while dating.3
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network defines traumatic stress as “the physical and emotional responses of a child to events that threaten the life or physical integrity of the child or of someone critically important to the child (such as a parent or sibling). Such events overwhelm a child’s capacity to cope and elicit intense physical and emotional reactions that can be as threatening to the child’s sense of physical and psychological safety as the traumatic event itself.”4